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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Florida fails to complete last-minute comeback versus Aggies

The Gators can’t overcome early deficit against Texas A&M

<p>Florida&#x27;s Colin Castleton takes the ball up the court during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State. Castleton led the Gators in points and minutes played Saturday in a crucial victory over Ole Miss.</p>

Florida's Colin Castleton takes the ball up the court during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State. Castleton led the Gators in points and minutes played Saturday in a crucial victory over Ole Miss.

Texas A&M freshman Wade Taylor lined up to launch a 3-point shot. The strike would’ve given his team the lead against Florida with less than 20 seconds left. When Taylor rose up into his attempt, Florida guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. accidentally swiped him.  

Taylor headed to the free-throw line.

You could hear a pin drop as the crowd in Reed Arena fell to dead silence, allowing the guard to swish all three of his attempts.

UF guard Tyree approached half-court with the speed of a snail, draining precious time to decrease the odds of creating a second-chance basket. He dished to Fleming, who shot a prayer with three ticks of the clock remaining, but the ball pinballed off the rim.

The game-winning scrum began, and Texas A&M forward Henry Coleman III brought down the clinching rebound as time expired.

Florida (16-10, 6-7) failed to overcome an early 13-point disadvantage and collapsed Tuesday, 55-56, to Texas A&M (16-10, 5-8). The Gators suffered their second consecutive loss after an abysmal 21-point loss to No. 5 Kentucky Saturday.

Despite the defeat, forward Colin Castleton recorded his seventh double-double of the season, matching 15 points with 15 rebounds. The senior did his part on the defensive side, tallying two powerful blocks at the rim. 

Yet, the Gator’s leader in points, rebounds and blocks wasn’t impressed with his performance.

“I mean, it's cool, but I just want to win,” Castleton said. “I hate to lose. It really drives me crazy. Like I really didn't care what I was doing. There's a lot of things I could have done better.”

Junior forward CJ Felder led the Gators to a short-lived rhythm in the opening minutes with two-consecutive baskets in the paint. The rest of the team shot themselves in the foot for seven following possessions, allowing Texas A&M to go on a 15-2 run led by guard Quenton Jackson.

The Gators were ice cold from 3-point range, missing 10 consecutive tries to begin the game while Jackson got busy for A&M. The graduate student hit a shot from behind the arc and forced his way through the paint for three trips to the charity stripe.

Florida ended up in a 19-6 rut before they could blink, forcing head coach Mike White to burn his first timeout of the game and recollect his group.

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White told his team in the timeout that they needed to “chill” a little bit on the shots from downtown when they were in the dry spell.

“We're playing really hard on the defensive end, great energy,” White said. “Let's stop trying to hit grand slams.”

The Gators rarely heeded their coach's advice, firing up shots early in the shot clock.

“Maybe I built [the confidence] up too much with these guys,” White continued. “You want to shoot it before you turn it over, but we shot it a little bit too quickly on four or five possessions.”

White adjusted his offense to play through Castleton. The Michigan transfer put in a two-hand slam to snap the scoring drought and made his way to the free-throw line on the ensuing possession.

Guard Brandon McKissic subbed into the game and impacted the second possession out of the timeout. With 4:08 left in the first half, forward Anthony Duruji dished to a wide-open McKissic on the left side of the arc, setting up Florida’s first 3-point swish.

Guard Myreon Jones, McKissic and Castleton utilized their deadly combination to cut into the vast deficit. Castleton conquered the paint with his 6-foot-11-inch stature, grabbing six offensive boards which translated into 11 second-chance points for Florida in the first half.

The momentum slowly rose for the Gators as they trailed 27-20, heading to the locker room.

Texas A&M kept a steady lead as it maintained a half-court press to create four second-half turnovers. Somehow, Florida found its release from behind the arc, shooting 5-13 from 3-point range in the second half. The improvement from the field brought the score to a 45-point tie with 5:58 left.

The Aggies snapped a four-game losing skid despite Florida’s advantage in second-chance points and defensive stops 

Florida will spend the rest of the week gearing up for its daunting home matchup against the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (23-2, 11-1) Saturday. Tipoff from inside Stephen C. O’Connell Center will be at 2 p.m. and broadcast on ESPN.

Contact Jesse Richardson at Follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352.

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