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Monday, May 20, 2024

Gators dominate Alabama to advance to SEC Tournament Semifinals

Florida took the lead with five minutes to go in the first half and never looked back

Gators men's basketball graduate student guard Zyon Pullin drives to the basket during the Florida Gators men's basketball game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Photo by Ryan Friedenberg
Gators men's basketball graduate student guard Zyon Pullin drives to the basket during the Florida Gators men's basketball game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Photo by Ryan Friedenberg

Florida graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel was feeling it offensively.

So much so that he had all 10 eyes of the Alabama Crimson Tide defense locked on to him as he backed down his defender in the low post midway through the second half.

With the Crimson Tide’s attention turned, Samuel snapped a pass to junior guard Will Richard who buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Gators their largest lead of the contest at 24.

Florida (23-10, 12-7 SEC) cruised past Alabama (21-11, 13-6) 102-88 in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals in Nashville, Friday.

The Gators came into the matchup with the opportunity to make it to their first SEC Tournament semifinal in the last five years. However, that didn’t look like a probable scenario in the early going of Florida’s rubber match against Bama.

The high-flying Crimson Tide offense ranked No. 1 in the nation, and they showed exactly why in the opening minutes. The Crimson Tide have had continued success with lethal shooting attacks from deep, averaging just over 11 made 3-point attempts on the season.

However, it was Alabama attacking the paint with an aggressive style to score its first eight points of the game inside the heart of the Gator defense to break open to an 8-0 lead.

Florida was out of rhythm offensively and found itself in a hole. There was a lack of off-ball movement on UF’s end, and it seemed whoever had the ball in their hands was forced into inefficient shot attempts time and time down the floor.

Florida’s two leading scorers in junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. and graduate student guard Zyon Pullin were hardly a factor offensively in the opening minutes of play, but UF found a way to keep the score close midway through the first half despite being outplayed in nearly every statistical category.

Alabama saw its lead dwindle down to 15-12 at the 11:41 mark despite posting more rebounds, assists and a better shooting percentage from both 2-point and 3-point range. But the Gators saw an opportunity with the door open despite their less-than-stellar play to open the game.

The Gator backcourt, which has been phenomenal all season long, began to look a lot more familiar after its quiet start. 

Clayton Jr. and Pullin finished the first half with a combined 19 points and were key contributors in Florida soaring to a 17-2 run to close the first 20 minutes of play and completely shift the momentum of the game while giving UF its first lead.

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Florida upped the intensity on the defensive side of the ball and started crashing the boards, something they failed to do early on, holding the Crimson Tide without a field goal in over four minutes of play.

Perhaps the most impressive defensive feat the Gators accomplished in the opening half was holding SEC leading scorer senior Mark Sears to four points and 2-for-8 from the field which overall, kept Bama’s offense in check while Florida broke the game open.

What once looked like a game that was going to get out of hand for the Gators quickly turned into one that they held control of, possessing a 48-33 lead heading to the break.

UF was faced with a familiar task as the game came down the stretch: Keeping the opposition from making a miraculous second half comeback.

Samuel was up for the task. He made an early statement after halftime with 10 points in just over five minutes and kept Alabama from going on an offensive surge.

The Gators did an impressive job of keeping Bama's 3-point shooting threats at bay. The Crimson Tide finished the game 6-for-25 from long distance, almost half their season average per game.

Florida stayed relentless rebounding the ball en route to winning the battle 39-35. Although it has been the Gators backcourt carrying the load throughout the season, it was the frontcourt making a statement on the offensive end down the stretch.

UF’s big men, in Samuel, Handlogten, Haugh and Condon, finished with 27 of the team’s final 54 points and were efficient at the charity stripe as well. They also played a significant role in the Gators shooting 86% from the free throw line, knocking down 31 of their 36 attempts.

Five players finished with double-digit scoring marks for the second straight day for head coach Todd Golden’s crew in what was maybe their best collective performance of the season.

Clayton Jr. finished with a game-high 23 points, and Pullin followed his lead with 19 points and three assists. 

Rounding out Florida’s offensive attack was Samuel with 18 points and four rebounds. Freshman forward Alex Condon provided his second-straight double-digit scoring outing off the bench, finishing with.

Florida will have a quick turnaround as it’s set to play its third game in three days against Texas A&M. The Aggies have beaten the Gators in their last five matchups. Though, they've been close, as UF has lost the five games by a combined 10 points. Tip-off will be at 2:30 p.m. in Nashville Saturday.

Contact Max at Follow him on X @Max_Tuckr1.

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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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