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Monday, April 22, 2024

Alabama holds off Florida in an overtime duel

The Gators held the lead for nearly 30 minutes of the contest but failed to take the victory

Sophomore guard Riley Kugel dribbles the ball in the Gators' 88-82 win against the Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday Feb. 17, 2024.
Sophomore guard Riley Kugel dribbles the ball in the Gators' 88-82 win against the Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday Feb. 17, 2024.

It took more than 40 minutes to decide the winner between Florida and Alabama as the highly contested matchup was decided in the final minute of overtime.

The Gators trailed by just three and their leading scorer, junior guard Walter Clayton Jr., brought the ball up the court with a chance to tie the game and send the fight into double overtime.

He put up a 3-point attempt which has found the bottom of the net 62 times this season. A 63rd would have given Florida a chance for a massive upset road win until it bounced off the rim allowing the Crimson Tide to come away with the victory.

The No. 24 Florida Gators (18-8, 8-5 SEC) fell to the No. 13 Alabama Crimson Tide (19-7, 11-2 SEC) 98-93 in an overtime thriller at Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday.

The matchup featured two of the hottest teams in the SEC and two high-powered offenses ranked in the top 10 in efficiency. 

The Gators were handed a lopsided 28-point loss in last year’s battle with the Crimson Tide. But this year’s matchup with ‘Bama presented an opportunity for a ranked Florida team to go into Tuscaloosa and steal a road win on Alabama’s court.

Both teams had a difficult time putting up points to start the contest as the Gators and the Crimson Tide were both 2-for-8 from the field in the game’s opening minutes.

The frontcourt of Florida sparked the offense as graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel and sophomore center Micah Handlogten scored six of UF’s opening nine points.

However, neither team grabbed an edge with five lead changes in the first six-plus minutes.

The Gators defense kept Bama in check early into the contest. The Crimson Tide’s lethal offense shot just 1-for-12 from the 3-point line while Florida used the perimeter to its advantage, opening the game 4-for-7.

Leading the surge from long range was Clayton Jr. after knocking three 3-pointers over seven minutes as UF took control with a 27-20 lead with just over 8 minutes left in the first half.

The Iona transfer led the way offensively to a first-half high 13 points for the Gators.

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Alabama was scoring at will in the heart of Florida’s defense with 28 of their 37 first half points coming in the paint. Its productivity inside kept them afloat in the first half as the Crimson Tide’s troubles from long range continued to shoot 2-for-18 from 3-point range.

Florida came into the matchup as the No. 1 rebounding team in the SEC but the Crimson Tide made a statement on the boards to keep the Gators’ lead from getting out of hand in the first half.

Alabama out-rebounded UF 30-22 in the first 20 minutes and used the offensive glass to its advantage. A physical sequence from the Crimson Tide with just under 3 minutes left in the first half included four offensive rebounds that led to a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Rylan Griffen to cut Florida’s lead to 37-35.

The Gators struggled offensively to close half, missing their last four field goal attempts. However, double-digit scoring marks from junior guard Will Richard and Clayton Jr. helped UF take a 41-37 advantage into the break.

As the teams continued to trade blows in the opening minutes after halftime, Richard got the hot hand for Florida. The junior displayed his long-range ability by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in less than two minutes to earn the Gators a 49-44 lead with 17:03 left in the game.

But the Crimson Tide refused to go down without a fight. A 6-0 run over 1:27 cut the UF lead to just one heading into another media timeout. Alabama senior guard Nick Pringle was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field through the second half to ignite the Alabama run. 

Florida head coach Todd Golden used the timeout to settle his team down and regroup. The Gators rallied for an 8-0 run set by graduate student guard Zyon Pullin and Clayton Jr. as they have all season long.

An unexpected 3-pointer from the top of the key from freshman forward Alex Condon capped off the run before an Alabama freshman answered for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama desperately needed to slow down Florida’s momentum, and freshman forward Sam Walters had the answer. The four-star high school recruit buried back-to-back 3-pointers to shrink the Gators’ lead to 65-60 with 10 minutes left to play.

Basketball is a game of runs, and the second half of the matchup carried much of the same theme. A 3-pointer from Clayton Jr. gave UF a 10 point lead, its largest lead of the game, before Bama’s offense caught fire.

A 5-0 run followed by a 10-0 run gave the Crimson Tide their first lead since the first half. After a quiet start to the game, SEC leading scorer Mark Sears found his groove down the stretch of the game. 

After eight points in the first half, the senior got hot in crunch time with a pair of long range jumpers that allowed ‘Bama to earn a 77-76 edge with under five minutes to play.

It was a back-and-forth affair down the stretch as neither team earned a lead greater than three in the game’s final minutes.

The Gators were up 83-80 with 1:27 to go largely in part to three-straight baskets from Samuel with the game on the line.

The Crimson Tide responded with a 5-2 run and had an opportunity to win the game at the buzzer after Sears calmly stepped to the charity stripe and tied the score at 85-apiece.

Griffen snatched an offensive board with seconds remaining and put up a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. However, Handlogten soared in the air and swatted away the shot attempt to send the game into overtime.

Alabama controlled the pace and the score from the opening tip of the overtime period. ‘Bama opened on a 7-0 run, and the Crimson Tide outscored the Gators 13-8 in the five-minute stretch to secure victory.

Senior guards Grant Nelson and Aaron Estrada each posted 20-point performances in the Crimson Tide’s victory with Sears following their lead with 17 points, respectively.

Despite a valiant effort from Clayton Jr.’s team-high 27 points, the Gators came up short against the high-flying Alabama offense in overtime.

Florida will return home to take on Vanderbilt on Saturday. Tip off will be at 1 p.m. at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Contact Max at Follow him on X @MaxTuckerUF25.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time. Max will be covering the Gators Golf teams this Fall for The Alligator.

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