Noah K. Murray / USA TODAY Sports

Gators can’t get over hump vs. Duke

The No. 21 Florida Gators (7-2) showed they could hang with No. 5 Duke (9-1), but after falling behind by as many as 14 points in the Jimmy V Classic contest Tuesday night, they just didn’t have enough on both sides of the floor to finish any kind of comeback and fell to the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden in New York City Tuesday night.

The final score read 84-74 and Florida head coach Mike White certainly isn’t going to be happy about his team’s defense, but he can’t fault the overall effort from his team and the resolve to stay in the game when down by double digits.

Florida made an early game of it early, battling hard in the first half with their last lead (28-26) coming with five minutes left in the first stanza. It was at that point that the Blue Devils started hitting shots and making the extra pass to get open looks at the basket. Duke erased the Gator lead and by halftime, just five minutes later, they held a 10 point lead.

Duke drove the lead to 12 points (43-31) on a pair of freshman Jayson Tatum free throws in the first minute of the second half, before Florida scored six straight on senior guard Kasey Hill’s layup, a pair of free throws by junior forward Devin Robinson, and a dunk from senior John Egbunu.

With under two minutes gone in the second half, the Gators were in striking distance, but over the next three minutes, Duke built their largest lead of 14 (53-39).

Florida would get back to seven points (61-54) with just over eight minutes left, but inevitably it was the inability to keep Duke guard Luke Kennard and forward Amile Jefferson from getting the ball and putting it in the basket. Kennard scored 29 points on 11-16 shooting and 5-7 from the 3-point line. Jefferson was a force on the boards, hauling down 15 rebounds, including five on the offensive side. Jefferson also scored 24 points. Tatum added 22 points off the bench and the trio scored 75 of the teams 84 points on the night.

Six Blue Devils played for all but three minutes in the contest, while the Gators had eight players in double digit minutes and a ninth with nine minutes. The constant subbing wasn’t enough to tire Duke as they were more efficient offensively in the second half than the first shooting an impressive 60.9% from the field in the last half of the game.

Florida sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen scored a season high 21 points on 8-13 from the field and 3-5 from beyond the arc. Kasey Hill (13) and Devin Robinson (11) were the only other Gators in double digits.

John Egbunu led all Gators with 12 rebounds on the night. Defensive rebounds were an issue yet again for the Gators, allowing 10 offensive rebounds to the Blue Devils and 35 total which was 3 more total rebounds more than the Gators mustered.

Hill had a terrific game against a really good defensive ball club. He scored his 13 points, but also pulled down 7 rebounds and delivered 6 assists to only 2 turnovers, while leading all Gators with 34 minutes.

Another positive for the Gators is that they kept the game from getting out of control late by making their shots beyond the arc. Florida only shot three shots from 3-point land in the first half making one. They hit on 5-of-8 shots from three in the second half finishing at 54.5% on the evening. It was the second straight game the Gators shot well from three, something that has plagued them most of the rest of the season.

However, closer to the basket they found things harder. Florida only landed 42.6% of its shots from the field, again something that has plagued them this season as well.

In the end, the Gators played hard and made a game of it. The game was definitely close enough in the last few minutes for the Gators to have a chance of pulling the upset.

Florida however showed the nagging issues of shooting poorly and allowing the other team to rebound the offensive backboard. The Gators also gave up way too many uncontested 3-point shots which may have proved to be the big killer for this team on this night.

UP NEXT: Florida travels to Tallahassee on Sunday to take on the Florida State Seminoles (8-1) at 4 p.m. in a game that will be televised live on ESPNU. 

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