The Gators had no answers defensively or offensively for the Alabama Crimson Tide in Thursday's first round of the SEC Tourney. The Tide jumped early on the young Gators and never looked back. After starting the game with a 14-0 run, the Tide sent Florida back to Gainesville and most likely ended their NCAA Tournament hopes with a 80-69 defeat of the Gators.
Florida missed their first six shots and made just five of their first 19 attempts, allowing Alabama to open up a 28-point lead in the first half. The Tide did it both inside and outside with Richard Hendrix dominating the Gators' frontline in the first 20 minutes. Head coach Billy Donovan sat Marreese Speights for most of the first half because of his inability to stop the Alabama big men, but Alex Tyus wasn't the answer either. Hendrix scored 22 points.
But it was the hot outside shooting of Mykal Riley that really sink the Gators. Riley knocked down eight 3s for a game-high 26 points. In the first eight minutes, Riley knocked down four 3s to open up the Tide's big lead. Alabama made 55 percent of their first half shots and also knocked down 57 percent from behind the arc. Florida shot just 29 percent from the floor and the scoreboard reflected it as Alabama took a 46-23 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, the Gators took advantage of a four minute scoring drought from Alabama to work their way back into the game. With 11:53 left, UF narrowed the margin to 16 points and then rattled off 10 straight points to pull with in six points, 57-51. Both Speights and Calathes struggled in the first half, but came alive, combining for all the points.
The Alabama margin proved to be too big of a mountain to climb, however, as the Gators never got closer than six points. Behind two more 3-pointers from Riley, Alabama distanced themselves from the Gators and maintained a 10-point margin to the final horn.
Speights led the Gators with 15 points and seven rebounds after the slow start in the first half. Chandler Parsons played well off the bench, scoring 13 and was the only other Gators to score in double figures. Calathes scored nine points, and Tyus dropped eight points coming off the bench.
Florida now awaits the NCAA Tournament selections on Sunday afternoon, but will most likely find themselves in the NIT instead, breaking a nine year run in the NCAAs. If they do miss out on the Big Dance, they'll become the first defending champion since the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks not to earn an invitation to the tournament.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski
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