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Monday, April 22, 2024

Gators fall in close matchup to Virginia for first loss of season

Florida turned it over on final possession

Graduate student Tyrese Samuel rises up for a dunk in the Gators' 93-73 win against Loyola Maryland on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.
Graduate student Tyrese Samuel rises up for a dunk in the Gators' 93-73 win against Loyola Maryland on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

In the closing seconds of the Gators’ game against Virginia, Cavaliers forward Blake Buchanan missed his second free throw to give UF a chance to tie it or take the lead down 72-70.

Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. took the ball up the court and as the clock ticked down he got trapped by Virginia defenders. The pressure caused him to lose possession, and the Cavaliers scooped up the ball and closed out the game.

The Florida Gators (1-1) fell to the Virginia Cavaliers (2-0) 73-70 in Charlotte, North Carolina Friday night. Four Gators finished the game scoring in double figures. UF shot 40% from the field and just 28% from deep. 

The Gators opened the game up 12-4 before Virginia gradually closed the gap. The Cavaliers flipped the script and went on a 14-2 scoring run. 

UF’s defense failed to stop Virginia midway through the first half. The Cavs started the game 2-8 from the field but then made four straight shots to give them the lead.

Graduate student guard Julian Rishwain made the Gators' first three of the game after UF’s first 14 points came from inside the paint. 

Florida struggled to get going from beyond the arc to begin the game. Junior guard Will Richard buried a triple from the right wing to tie it. Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc on the next possession to put UF up by one.

Virginia stayed in it as the teams continued to battle. Richard drained two straight triples to keep it close at the break 39-35. 

The Cavaliers began to pull away to open the second half. Virginia put the pressure on Florida and went up 52-41 early in the second half. The Gators clawed their way back into the game. Sophomore guard Riley Kugel shot just 1-7 in the first half but became the spark plug to get UF back in the game. He knocked down a desperation three to cut the lead to eight points. 

Kugel continued his scoring after he got loose in transition and dunked it to cut the deficit out of a media timeout. 

Richard continued his hot night shooting the ball and drained a corner three. Kugel drove into the paint again and scored a tough layup against contact. He missed the free throw, but sophomore center Micah Handlogten rose up and put it back in to give UF a one-point lead. 

Virginia finally hit a free throw to end UF’s 12-0 run. Buchanan tied the game with free throws before guard Isaac McNeely hit a three to give the Hoos a lead. 

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Handlogten refused to quit on a later possession. He grabbed an offensive board but missed the shot. He went right back up and grabbed his own miss before hitting the layup. The Charlotte native finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. 

The Gators went on a cold streak after their run and went 1-9 as they trailed 62-59 with 3:50 left. 

Handlogten continued his efforts, rebounding the ball after Kugel missed a free throw, and the center reached out and grabbed the board. He found Kugel went up in the air and made an acrobatic move to lay it in to tie it at 62. 

The sophomore center fouled out late in the game, and Florida would be without its starting center for the last two minutes of the game. 

McNeely attempted to draw a charge late in the game on UF freshman forward Thomas Haugh, but it ended in a blocking foul against him. Haugh hit one free throw.

Virginia responded with a score, and then Kugel caught a backdoor pass for a dunk. The teams traded baskets again with a minute left in the game. 

Clayton dribbled the ball up the court with a minute left. A defender knocked the ball out of his hands, and it was initially called out on UF before it got overturned. 

UF cut the lead to one after Clayton made one of two free throws. Florida’s defense stood tall to get the Gators the ball back. 

Clayton got pressured into the right wing by a Cavs double team and chucked the ball up to graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel but turned it over with less than 15 seconds left.

Buchanan drew a foul after and hit one free throw to make it a three-point game with 12.3 seconds left. 

The Gators gave themselves a chance to tie or take the lead, but Clayton lost possession of the ball in the closing seconds, and UF fell to the Cavaliers.

Florida will look to get back on track against the Florida A&M Rattlers at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.

Contact Jackson Reyes at jacksonreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.


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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.


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