Feel Good Finish Ends With a Thud

The Gator basketball team did so many things well in winning their first three games of the NIT and earning a trip to New York for the NIT Final Four. But those good things were in short supply Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden.

The Gator defense, which held the last three opponents to 53.3 points a game, surrendered 51 in the second half alone in a 78-66 loss to Massachusetts. The loss ends the Gator season at 24-12 and extends Florida futility in NYC in the post-season NIT where the Gators are now 0-6 in four trips to the Garden.

The Gators played decently enough for a lot of this game and actually led by nine (36-27) at halftime, but the lead should have been much more. Florida had a plus-eight rebound advantage at intermission but missed at least a half dozen easy shots on the inside and threw away a number of possessions, too.

Florida maintained a lead in the early part of the second half, but after a Walter Hodge bucket gave the Gators a six point lead (47-41) Florida was dominated the rest of the way. In the final 14 minutes, the Gators were outscored 37-to-19. Florida stopped going inside to Marreese Speights, (16/18) but he stopped posting up and looking for the ball, too. They stopped playing anything resembling defense and they lost for the 12th time this season.

Familiar Culprits Return

All season long we documented how dependent this team was on 3-point shooting to make things work and that was the case once again. Florida made just 2-of-12 shots from long range and constantly insisted on driving the ball to the basket no matter how much they were outnumbered.

The Gators were an embarrassing 8-for-21 from the free throw line and that was a big part of this one as well. And you can add in a lane violation that negated a made shot at the charity stripe as well. Nine times the Gators went to the free throw line to shoot two, and not once did they make both.

Nick Calathes picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season. Florida's sensational freshman did set the school record for points by a freshman (552), but he made just 5-of-19 shots and dished out only three assists on the evening. Calathes forced way too many drives to the basket and displayed virtually no patience in the half court offense. He was not the only Gator turning it over (16) but he had some big ones, too.

The Gators simply didn't compete very well in NYC and paid the price in a 12-point loss that ended a season of transition. We'll address some of the key issues facing the Gators this off-season in a day or so. For now, the Gators did post Florida's 10th straight 20-win season, but couldn't end the season on a high note.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel

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