Gators Suffer First Loss Against the Orange

The Florida Gators came up short in an early-season top-10 battle as seventh-ranked Syracuse remained unbeaten with an 85-73 win over 10th-ranked UF at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Thursday night before a crowd of 9,353. The game was also televised nationally by ESPN.

Trailing most of the night – but always staying within striking distance – the Gators finally forged a lead, 59-57, midway through the second half behind a 3-point barrage led by guard Kenny Boynton.

The freshman from Pompano Beach, who was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc in the first half, heated up and hit three treys in a row and Erving Walker added a pair as the Gators erased a 47-41 deficit. But Syracuse (9-0) responded with a 10-0 run over the next three minutes to retake the lead and was able to hold off UF the rest of the way.

The Gators did get within four, 73-69, with 3:24 left on a pair of free throws by Chandler Parsons, but Syracuse, as it had all night, answered the bell to quickly go back up by eight. With the clock winding down under two minutes, the Gators were forced to foul, and the Orange was able to extend the lead at the charity stripe down the stretch in handing UF (8-1) its first loss of the season.

Boynton led the Gators with 20 points and continued to impress with his ball-handling. He finished the game with a game-high seven assists and no turnovers. In his last three games, he has 22 assists and only one turnover.

Parsons was right behind with a season-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting while adding five assists and four rebounds, and Walker gave the Gators three players in double figures with 14 points while adding six assists. Alex Tyus led UF with 10 rebounds and had eight points, but UF's other frontcourt starters, Vernon Macklin and Dan Werner, were saddled by foul trouble all night.

The Orange took 31 free throws, connecting on 18, while UF was just 7-of-13. Syracuse had three players with double-doubles, led by 6-9 forward Rick Jackson, who set a career-high with 19 points and added a game-high 11 rebounds. Wesley Johnson, a 6-7 transfer from Iowa State who came into the game as the Orange's leading scorer and rebounder (17 ppg., 7.3 rpg.), had a 17-point, 10-rebound night, and Kris Joseph rounded out the trio with a 12-point, 10-rebound effort.

Senior guard Andy Rautins, meanwhile, scored 18 points and added five rebounds and five assists and probably had the biggest shot of the night. He hit a tough, turnaround 3-pointer with Boynton in his face on the Orange's ensuing possession after Parsons' trey had given UF the lead to put his team on top, 60-59, and started the pivotal 10-0 run.

"Give Rautins credit. He knocked down a big three," head coach Billy Donovan, who coached his 500th career game, said in his postgame comments on WRUF radio. "Our guys battled and fought. I still think there's areas we need to get better like rebounding the basketball We're being pushed and shoved around up front. I don't think that's a strong suit of our team. It's something we need to focus on and get better at as a team."

Syracuse, which led 42-36 at the half, came into the game leading the country in field goal shooting percentage and did nothing to harm that by hitting 52.5 percent (32-of-61) in the contest. The Orange also outrebounded UF by a 43-31 margin, but the Gators did hold them to just 23 percent (3-of-13) shooting from 3-point range.

Florida, meanwhile, shot 43.5 percent for the game but was a solid 40 percent (12-of-30) from behind the arc, matching its season-high for 3-pointers in a game. But the Gators' inability to control the boards led to a huge 18-4 Syracuse advantage in second-chance points.

UF is off for a week for final exams before returning to the court Dec. 19 when the Gators will take on a very good Richmond squad in Sunrise in the Orange Bowl Classic.

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