NASHVILLE — The Gators trailed by one point with 4.1 seconds left in overtime in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Graduate student guard Kyle Lofton caught the inbound pass and found graduate student guard Myreon Jones at midcourt. Jones pulled up from deep, but his shot missed.
Mississippi State eliminated Florida from the tournament and ended its chance of making the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 9-10 SEC) defeated the Florida Gators (16-15, 9-10 SEC) 69-68 in overtime Thursday afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee. The defeat stole Florida’s shot at the 2023 SEC title.
UF head coach Todd Golden was proud of his team despite the close loss, he said.
“I thought we did everything we could to be the spoilers,” Golden said. “I know our guys can hold their heads high after that effort today.”
Golden wished there could’ve been deeper penetration on the last possession to find a higher percentage shot, but he knew his team would have to get up a shot quickly with only four seconds left.
“You have to get one up, period,” Golden said. “You got to live with it a little bit.”
The Gators shot 40% from the field and 23% from deep. Freshman guard Riley Kugel led the team in scoring with 14 points. Jones scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Mississippi State won the tip-off to start the game. It missed its first two attempts but managed to retain the ball after both misses. Gators senior center Jason Jitoboh knocked down a floater to get the scoring started.
Bulldogs guard Shakeel Moore answered on the other end with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
Mississippi State guard Dashawn Davis drove to the cup for a layup, and Moore hit a mid-range shot to make the Bulldogs’ seventh-straight point. Jitoboh hit another floater to end the run.
Moore and Florida freshman guard Riley Kugel traded mid-range buckets. Kugel pulled up for a three after Moore’s basket and drained it. The teams went back and forth in transition but failed to score until Bulldogs forward DJ Jeffries made a layup.
UF sophomore guard Will Richard sank a triple from the top of the arc to make it a one-point game.
Mississippi State forward Will McNair Jr. scored a layup over a Florida defender coming out of a timeout. The teams traded baskets after McNair attacked down low again, and sophomore forward Alex Fudge finished a tough shot over his defender.
The Bulldogs took a nine-point lead after two trips to the charity stripe resulted in five free throw makes. Kugel drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and hit two of his three free throws.
Mississippi State moved the ball around until forward Tolu Smith found an opening in the paint and finished an easy score down low. Smith later hit a free throw to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead to double figures.
The Gators went on a four-minute-long scoring drought during Mississippi State’s run. Florida missed eight straight shots during the drought.
Davis knocked down a corner three coming out of a timeout to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead further. UF sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves drilled a 3-pointer to end the Gators' streak of misses.
Jeffries backed down Florida junior guard Trey Bonham for an easy shot close to the basket. He attempted a mid-range jumper on the next play, but Jitoboh sent the shot back.
Both sides went cold toward the end of the first half. The Gators failed to score for three minutes before Lofton hit a free throw. Florida ended the first half with just two makes in its last 14 attempts.
The Bulldogs went on a two-minute-long scoring drought and were one for their last nine. They ended the half with 12 misses in their last 14 attempts.
The Gators missed four straight shots before Reeves contorted his body and finished around a defender for a layup. Junior guard Niels Lane lobbed the ball over a defender to Fudge, who quickly scored the inside shot.
Mississippi State led 36-26 against Florida at halftime. The Gators shot just 36% from the field in the first half and 23.1% from deep.
Jitoboh banked in a layup and drew a foul to start the second half; he hit the free throw to complete the three-point play. Jones drove along the baseline and lofted his layup over the defender for the score.
Reeves euro stepped through the defense and found an opening for a layup to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to four. He scored a layup off of an inbound play on the next possession.
Florida freshman forward Aleks Szymcyzk knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Gators the lead. Stevenson hit a mid-range jumper to restore Mississippi State’s lead.
Lofton raced to the rim and finished a layup in the back-and-forth affair. Kugel drove the length of the court and scored through contact to force Bulldogs head coach Chris Jans to take a timeout.
Stevenson hit another jumper out of the timeout. Richard pump-faked and dribbled inside for a mid-range jumper on the other end. Lofton drove to the cup and scored a layup after Mississippi State committed a goaltending penalty.
Smith scored a layup seconds before the shot clock expired to put the Bulldogs up one. Reeves hit a free throw to tie the game midway through the second half.
Smith went to work again and scored over Fudge following Reeves’ free throw. He scored another layup later after a timeout.
Jones rainbowed a triple from the top of the arc to tie the game again. His shot was Florida’s last make for three minutes.
Davis stole the ball from Kugel and found himself all alone near the basket; he scored an easy layup to give Mississippi State a two-point lead late in the second half. Smith hit late a free throw to make it a four-point game.
Smith scored in the paint again. Richard missed a three on the other end, but the Gators grabbed the offensive rebound. Kugel kicked it out to Jones, who nailed the 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three.
Fudge rose up and blocked Smith’s shot on the next play to keep the Gators within one possession and force a shot-clock violation.
Jones caught the ball and threw up a 3-point attempt. He sank the triple to tie the game and scored nine straight points for Florida. The Gators forced a Mississippi State miss and had a chance to win the game.
Golden applauded Jones’ growth throughout the season and thought his leadership was key to keeping the game close against Mississippi State.
“He’s done a really good job of doing ‘the little things,’” Golden said. “That’s what you expect from a fifth-year senior.”
On the final possession of regulation, Jones took a 3-point shot but missed the game-winning attempt to send the game into overtime with the score tied at 57.
The Gators held the Bulldogs to 21 points in the second half. Golden thought his team did a good job of limiting second-chance points, which helped UF get back in the game.
“That’s the whole deal against these guys,” Golden said. “That was really what the difference was.”
Smith went up and hit a shot against two defenders and drew a foul to start the extra period. He made his free throw to convert the three-point play. Forward Cameron Matthews dunked the ball to give the Bulldogs a five-point lead.
Szymczyk scored and drew a foul to give Florida its first overtime points. He missed his free throw attempt.
Bulldogs guard Shawn Jones Jr. caught a lob from Davis in transition for a dunk to restore the five-point advantage. Smith caught a pass inside and scored to continue the run. Fudge tipped in a shot to cut the deficit back to five.
The Gators moved the ball around and found Kugel, who hit a 3-pointer to keep UF in the game.
Mississippi State turned the ball over, and Kugel drew a foul on the next play. He made both free throws to bring UF within one. The Gators forced a turnover and Lane scored to take the lead with 11 seconds left.
The Bulldogs found Smith down low for a score with 4.1 seconds left in the game to give Mississippi State a one-point lead.
Smith led both teams in scoring with 28 points on 9-19 shooting. He finished 10-17 from the charity stripe.
Reeves thought his team made Smith earn his points from the free-throw line, and he said the whole squad fought hard to defend him.
“You just got to tip your hat,” Reeves said. “This conference has got really good players.”
Florida drove the length of the court, and Lofton passed the ball to Jones. He threw up a shot attempt as the shot clock expired, but it bounced off the rim, and the Gators were eliminated from the SEC Tournament.
Florida will now wait to see if it will receive a bid to the National Invitational Tournament.
Contact Jackson Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.
Jackson Reyes is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and tweeting about Caleb Williams.