Xavier Holds off the Gators

On the night before Valentine's Day, it was a case of too much Love for the Florida Gators.

Jason Love, the Musketeers' 6-9, 265-pound center who is the only senior on the team, turned in an impressive double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds and standout sophomore guard Jordan Crawford added 18 points as the Musketeers handed UF its second straight loss, 76-64, before a disappointed crowd of 12,113 in the O'Connell Center Saturday night.

The loss, UF's third home defeat of the year, dropped the Gators to 17-8 overall while the Musketeers, winners of five of their last six, improved to 17-7.

"I thought there were a couple of factors in the game," UF head coach Billy Donovan said. "I think the first thing that has probably happened the last two games for us is when we don't get scoring at a good clip from one of three guys – Erving (Walker), Kenny Boynton and (Alex) Tyus – when those guys don't shoot the ball well, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on our defense. I think if you look at those guys' shooting percentages, they had a tough time from the field."

Boynton (12 points) and Walker (11 points), the latter of whom did not start for the first time this season due to missing a team meeting, did manage to finish in double figures, but were a combined 6-for-19 from the field including 3-of-11 from 3-point range. They did, however, combine to go 8-of-9 from the foul line. Tyus, meanwhile, struggled to a 4-for-13 shooting effort, finishing with just nine points and four rebounds.

Junior Chandler Parsons led the Gators with 15 points and added eight rebounds, while junior center Vernon Macklin had his first double-double as a Gator, scoring 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and adding a career-high 10 rebounds for UF, but was 0-for-5 from the free throw line.

For the second straight game, Florida's inability to make free throws and keep the opponent off the offensive boards played a big role in a defeat. The Gators, coming off an SEC road loss to South Carolina in which they only made 10-of-23 free throw attempts (43.5 percent) and allowed the Gamecocks 15 offensive rebounds, improved only slightly at the charity stripe, connecting on 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) and gave up a season-high 19 offensive rebounds to the Musketeers, who were a solid 16-of-22 (72.7 percent) from the foul line.

Even Love's backup, 7-0, 265-pound freshman Kenny Frease, abused UF inside, scoring 12 points and hitting 4-of-5 shots. Point guard Terrell Holloway (10 points) gave Xavier four players in double figures, while forward Jamel McLean added eight points and grabbed a game-high 13 boards, helping the Musketeers to a 44-36 rebounding edge.

"They killed us on the glass, and once again free throws really hurt us," Parsons said. "Their post players were really good. They're really big guys and they just killed us tonight."

The Musketeers had the Gators on their heels early, controlling the action from the opening tip and building as much as a 16-point lead, 32-16, with 7:08 left in the opening half. They maintained a double-digit advantage for the next five minutes, but a trey by Boynton with 14 seconds left in the half capped a late 9-2 UF run which cut the lead to 40-33 at the break.

The Gators kept chipping away in the second half and finally took their first lead of the game, 49-47, on a Macklin dunk with 12:27 to play. Frease scored inside to tie at 49-all and Crawford hit 1-of-2 free throws with 11:19 left to put Xavier back on top, 50-49, but a Tyus stuff and a free throw by Ray Shipman put the Gators back ahead, 52-50, with 10:48 to play.

Tyus was fouled by Love on his dunk, the fourth personal on the Xavier center, but instead of building the lead when he went to the bench, the Gators watched it dissolve in a 12-2 run by the Musketeers capped by a Crawford trey with 7:30 remaining that gave Xavier a 62-54 lead.

UF got within three, 62-59, on a Parsons trey with 3:48 to play, but the Musketeers outscored UF 14-5 down the stretch to post the 12-point win.

There were positives in the defeat. Xavier came into the game with three players shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range but connected on just 4-of-20 (20 percent) beyond the arc. And, the Gators had 14 assists, including a game-high eight by Walker, and only committed eight turnovers following a season-high 20-turnover performance against South Carolina.

"I think their frontcourt was as physical as anybody we've played this year," Donovan said. "I honestly don't know what else we could have done against their frontcourt. I thought the 3-point line was going to be really crucial in the game, but we did a pretty good job there."

Florida, which was playing a non-conference opponent in February for the first time since 2003, returns to SEC action Thursday night when the Gators entertain Auburn.

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