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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Samuel shines as Florida claims seventh-straight win on home court

Graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel dominated with a season-high 28 points

Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. shoots at the buzzer in the the Gators' 83-74 win over the Missouri Tigers.
Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. shoots at the buzzer in the the Gators' 83-74 win over the Missouri Tigers.

The Missouri Tigers came into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center without a win in conference play this season. But they had the Gators on their heals late in the game trailing by just four points with four minutes left.

Graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel was sensational all game long, but the last bucket he shot through the net slammed the door shut on the Tigers’ hopes of stealing a road win.

With just over one minute left, junior guard Will Richard led a fast break and dished a pass to Samuel underneath the hoop before he finished a layup over his defender’s head to ensure victory for the Gators.

The No. 24 Florida Gators men’s basketball team (20-8, 10-5 SEC) defended its home court at Exactech Arena 83-74 on its way to handing the Missouri Tigers (8-20, 0-15 SEC) Wednesday.

Florida head coach Todd Golden refused to overlook Missouri in a game where his team easily could have done so. 

“Missouri’s good,” Golden said. “They’re talented, they have a good coach, they know what they’re doing as a system.”

Setting the tone for the Gators in the opening minutes on the offensive end was Samuel who scored seven of UF’s first nine points. 

The tall 6-foot-10 forward came into the contest averaging 13 points and just under eight rebounds per game this season, but he had a dominant opening 20 minutes posting 12 points and six points in the first half alone.

“I feel like his motor was running really high,” Golden said. “When his motor’s running like that he’s one of the best frontcourt players in the league.”

Florida struggled shooting the ball from deep to start the game. It entered Wednesday’s matchup shooting 33% as a team from the 3-point line but had an underwhelming 3-for-15 showing from the perimeter heading into halftime.

However, a scoop layup from junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. gave UF a lead just seven seconds into the game that it possessed for the entirety of the first half. 

Despite the Gators’ shooting woes from the 3-point line to begin the contest, they played heavy defense to hold the Tigers to 18% from deep and 37% from the field through the first period.

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UF saw its lead grow as large as 22-13 at the 9:45 mark after graduate student guard Zyon Pullin knocked down a 3-pointer for his only field goal in the first 20 minutes of play.

Though, junior guard Tamar Bates kept Missouri afloat as the game seemed to be slipping away. He cut Florida’s lead down to seven after a tough finish at the rim earned Bates two of his team-high first half nine points.

Florida brought in the third-ranked scoring offense in the SEC but continued to struggle finding a groove on the offensive end, and Missouri took advantage en route to a 7-3 run in just over one minute to cut the Gators’ lead to 26-22.

However, UF kept its poise and responded with an 11-6 run to close out the half while taking a 37-28 lead into the locker room.

The home crowd  in the O’Domesaw an offense they were more accustomed to seeing throughout this season in the opening minutes after the break.

Florida broke open the second half on a 12-2 run in under two minutes of play. It was a versatile offensive attack during this stretch with four out of five of UF’s starters recording points during the explosion.

The UF lead grew to 51-40, and the stadium was in a frenzy. But the Tigers kept their composure.

Missouri responded with an 11-3 run of its own led by graduate student guard Nick Honor who scored eight straight points throughout the rally.

The Gators found themselves in a battle as the game began to come down the stretch. What was once an 11-point Florida lead had now dwindled down to just one point with 9:36 left to play.

“We had been in situations like this, even worse situations,” Pullin said.

The streaky UF offense once again found themselves in a slump. Florida went scoreless for a 3:45 stretch before a pair of much needed buckets went in for the orange and blue.

Richard banged home a 3-pointer from the right corner and Pullin followed with a deep ball from the right wing.

Samuel’s exceptional performance continued throughout the second half  for the graduate student to post a season-high 28 points while snatching 10 rebounds.

His timely buckets in clutch moments allowed the Gators to hold off the Tigers in the final minutes of play. Samuel and Pullin were money down the stretch for UF. The graduate student duo combined to score 23 of Florida’s last 25 points.

“I think we played great down the stretch,” Samuel said. “We didn’t panic, and I had a lot of confidence that we were still gonna win the game.”

Pullin’s four 3-pointers was a game-high, and his shots with the game on the line helped Florida make 11 of its last 13 shot attempts.

With Clayton Jr. fouling out of the game with 14 minutes still left to play, Florida needed contributions that would not be able to be provided by the team’s leading scorer.

“I think it was just staying together and trying to keep making the right plays,” Pullin said. “I think that’s something this team did a pretty good job of today.”

The UF frontcourt showed out in a huge way as sophomore center Michah Handlogten and Samuel combined for 40 points and 22 rebounds. 

“Especially coming off our last game where we didn’t exactly rebound the best,” Handlogten said. “I think there’s almost like an ego thing like we don’t wanna get punked again.”

Florida has been a team carried by guard play all season, however, it was the Gators big men that provided the spark the team needed in critical moments.

“We’re a very good team obviously,” Golden said. “But we’re not the No. 1 team in America yet, and we got a lot of improving to do.

The Gators will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, for a matchup with the No. 18 Gamecocks on Saturday. Tip off will be at 12 p.m.

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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