As snow quietly blanketed over Columbia, Missouri, the frigid temperatures translated to equally low shooting percentages for both Florida and Missouri in their Wednesday afternoon matchip.
Gators men’s basketball (14-8, 4-5) narrowly escaped Mizzou (8-13, 2-6) 66-65 Wednesday afternoon in a battle that came down to the last possession. Both teams went on runs but neither could hold a significant advantage across 40 minutes of play.
Florida made it rain from 3-point land, making eight of 14 attempts in the first half. Senior guard Myreon Jones led the way in shooting early, starting his afternoon with 15 points in nine minutes, all of his shots coming from deep. The Penn State transfer played up to fans’ preseason expectations of him after averaging 8.5 PPG on 31.7% three-point shooting thus far.
“I tell Myreon everyday ‘Keep shooting… it doesn’t matter which game or anything,’” guard Tyree Appleby said. “This game he caught fire, we love for him to do that. I think he played great.”
The Gators didn’t take a resounding early lead despite the solid start. Mizzou opened the contest with a drought behind the arc but found themselves down just four, 17-13 halfway through the first period.
The Tigers’ offensive advantage came down low, recording 16 points in the paint in the first half. Mizzou made a strong defensive presence, forcing nine turnovers in the first period. Florida began to drag offensively, lacking ball handler Appleby after the senior went to the bench early with foul trouble.
As the first half came to a close, Florida entered the locker room up 33-31. The Gators shot 47.8% from the field in the first, but a negative turnover and rebounding margins for the Gators kept Mizzou within one possession. These margins highlight the challenges Florida faces without star forward Colin Castleton and recently emerging center Jason Jitoboh, who underwent season-ending eye surgery.
“All of these defenses in our league are ridiculous,” head coach Mike White said. “The SEC is at an all time high and I bet if you crunched all the defensive numbers, I just can’t imagine that there’s a league that’s this comparable to us.”
The snowstorm-covered affair now looked to be approaching a blazing finish. Neither team showed any indication of letting the other control momentum.
The second half opened in a similar fashion with both teams trading haymakers in the opening minutes of the period. Mizzou took their first lead of the game on a swish from downtown by guard DeJuan Gordon before Appleby quickly answered with a three of his own to regain the lead.
Florida struggled to repeat its first half performance after the intermission following the make from Appleby. The Gators turned the ball over five times over the course of a seven-minute scoring drought.
Senior Anthony Duruji finally ended the cold stretch on a wing jumper, marking his 1,000th career point as a Gator. Mizzou would continue to apply pressure and took their largest lead of the game at 52-43 with just under eight minutes remaining.
At that point, White decided to tweak his team’s game plan. Florida switched to a zone look on defense and attacked the inside on offense, drawing fouls at a higher clip. The Gators clawed their way back to a one-possession game with under three minutes to go in the contest. Both teams continued to trade baskets at the rim and free throws down the stretch.
With 11.8 seconds left, the Gators had the ball at midcourt down just one point. Tyree Apleby receives the inbound on the right wing, drives early and is fouled at the rim. After making all of his free throws in the game, the senior guard knocked down his ninth and tenth to take the lead, 66-65 with 7.9 seconds left.
The Tigers had 2.2 seconds to score and win after their initial attempt was sent out of bounds on a block by forward Tuongtach Gatkek. On the final possession, Mizzou inbounded to guard Kaleb Brown in the corner, who spotted up for three.
The Gators survived on the road and could return to Gainesville victorious after their first of ten remaining SEC matchups. Appleby finished with 17 points, just ahead of Duruji at 14 and behind Jones at 18.
“The coaches just kept telling us to stay poised and stay ready,” Appleby said. “Through all the adversity I think we just collectively came together and won this game.”
The Gators will be back in the Stephen C. O’Connell center Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to face off against Ole Miss in a rematch from Florida’s collapse against the Rebels in January.
Jackson Castellano is a second-year sports journalism student and the assistant sports editor at the Alligator. In the past, he has covered UF basketball and baseball for the Alligator and was an associate editor at ClutchPoints.