The Gators played from behind all afternoon. They trailed for over 38 minutes of game time after jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead, but they still had a chance at the end.
UF shot 37 percent to the Spartans’ 51 percent, and on 12 more shots to boot. But again, coach Mike White’s team had a chance to win at the end.
It just needed one stop with 43 seconds left. Florida trailed 61-59, and if it weren’t for a bang-bang floor foul called on Andrew Nembhard, it may have gotten the stop it needed. But the officials called the foul, and MSU’s Kyle Ahrens took advantage with a game-clinching, shot-clock-beating dunk with eight seconds left to put the game out of reach.
The Gators fell to No. 10 Michigan State 63-59 for their fourth loss of the season.
“We’re not a very good offensive team,” White said. “We have good offensive pieces though, and I believe we’ll become a good offensive team.”
Saturday’s game was the second shot UF’s had at a ranked team. It faired better this time around than in its 81-60 loss to Florida State in the season opener, but the result was the same. Florida’s defense kept the game competitive, just as it did in Tuesday night’s win against West Virginia.
UF (5-4) scored 15 points off 15 MSU turnovers, enough to keep the Michigan State lead in check throughout the game.
Florida struggled to keep tabs on the Spartans’ (8-2) scorers all game, especially 6-foot-8 forward Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman.
Ward presented a multitude of matchup problems for the Gators, who mainly employ a three-guard lineup. Guard Jalen Hudson, who stands three inches shorter than Ward, struggled to defend him when assigned. Ward went off for 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting on Saturday.
Tillman had a great game in his own right. He led Michigan State in scoring with 14, and he hit six of his seven shots.
Freshman point guard Nembhard had a good day on offense, scoring 13 points. He also had three of Florida’s seven assists.
KeVaughn Allen also scored 13, but it took him 15 shots to get there.
One of the few bright spots for Florida was on the offensive boards. The Gators had 16 offensive rebounds and scored 14 second-chance points.
A four-point loss to a top-10 team in the country won’t reflect poorly on Florida’s resume, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Gators had a chance to earn a signature win against the Spartans, despite poor shooting.
UF shot 6-of-24 from behind the three-point line. For a team that supposedly lives and dies by the three, the Gators appear to die far more often than they live.
Still, senior center Kevarrius Hayes believes the team can build off its second-half effort moving forward.
“We picked up the energy tremendously in the second (half),” he said. “We have to play with that type of energy, that type of effort, the entire game.”
Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter at @TylerNettuno and contact him at [email protected].