The Jaguars' DeAndre Hersey rebounded teammate Tim Williams' miss and laid the ball softly in the basket from a foot away with only 1.8 seconds left to play to give his team a 67-66 upset of the 18th-ranked Gators, handing Florida (8-3) its third straight defeat and its second heartbreaking loss in a matter of days, coming on the heels of a 56-53 loss to Richmond in Sunrise Saturday.
The win improved the Jaguars to 9-4 on the year while dealing UF its first home loss of the season as well as its first home loss in December since a defeat at the hands of Louisville in 2004.
Much like the Richmond loss, the difference came from the 3-point line. UF had entered that contest allowing opponents to connect on just 21 percent from 3-point range – a figure that led the nation – but the Gators let the Spiders connect on 7-of-19 (38.5 percent) in the loss while shooting just 3-of-15 (20 percent) themselves.
Tuesday night was even worse. The Jaguars knocked down 7-of-11 treys (63.6 percent) while UF struggled all night and finished a paltry 3-of-22 (13.6 percent).
But the Gators missed from all different angles and ranges. After shooting a solid 48.4 percent (15-of-31) in the first half that included just 2-for-12 from beyond the arc, Florida converted just 6-of-26 shots in the second half (23.1 percent) and was only 1-of-10 from bonus land.
The numbers were dumbfounding to head coach Billy Donovan.
"We continue to struggle to shoot the ball from behind the 3-point line, and we allowed them to shoot 7-for-11," he said. "I was actually shocked that we were even in the game coming down the stretch with our shooting numbers. In the second half, we shot 23 percent and 10 percent (3-pointers). I've never been around shooting numbers like that before. I don't care who you're playing. When you shoot like that, it's going to be very difficult to win."
Starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were a combined 6-of-21 from the field including 2-of-13 from 3-point range, but Donovan was more concerned with the fact that senior Dan Werner and junior Chandler Parsons, two of UF's most experienced players, were a combined 2-of-14 from the floor and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.
"You expect your veteran players to step up," Donovan noted.
Juniors Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, meanwhile, did yeoman's work. The starting Gator post players combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds, with Tyus leading the Gators with 16 points and seven rebounds while Macklin added 13 points and seven boards. Boynton, meanwhile, bounced back from a subpar (six points) performance against Richmond to score 14 points, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
South Alabama's Williams led all scorers with 21 points and also tied UF's Tyus and Macklin for game-high rebounding honors with seven. He was 8-of-19 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
The two teams battled to a 43-all tie at the end of a fast-paced first half, only to play a second-half that was much lower scoring. After a conventional three-point play by Williams gave the Jaguars a 46-43 lead, Tyus scored six straight points highlighted by a couple of slam dunks to fire up the crowd of 10, 191 and give UF a 49-46 lead.
But Williams knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the score again, then hit a two-pointer from just inside the line for a 51-49 Jaguars lead. A trey by Boynton put UF up by one, 52-51, but the Jaguars went on a 10-2 run over the next three minutes-plus to go up 61-54 with 7:42 left to play.
Tyus and Macklin, however, combined to score the next seven points, tying the score at 61-61 with 5:07 remaining and setting up a frantic finish. Williams made it 63-61, South Alabama, on an inside hoop moments later, but when UF's Parsons knocked down 5-of-6 free throw attempts while South Alabama's LaShun Watson missed the front end of back-to-back 1-and-1s, the result was a 66-63 UF lead with 1:17 left.
Two free throws by Williams cut the lead to one with 55.2 ticks left. Florida ran the shot clock down on the ensuing possession before Parsons drove down the lane in heavy traffic and could not get the shot off, with the ball eventually going off Florida and out of bounds with 18 seconds left.
South Alabama set up a play for Williams, and he drove on Macklin and put up a tough shot with three seconds left. Hersey's putback gave the Jaguars the lead, and Walker's desperation shot from three-quarters court bounced off the back of the rim at the buzzer.
"We definitely need to realize there is a sense of urgency here," Tyus said while still trying to digest the loss. "This is frustrating."
The Gators return to action Dec. 28 when they entertain American University. They close out the 2009 portion of their schedule two nights later when they host Presbyterian.
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