Falling behind early and having to fight their way back into contention has been a pattern for the Gators lately. Each of their three losses to close the regular season unfolded according to that script.
"We didn't come out with the right intensity," said sophomore point guard Erving Walker. "They came out and knew what they wanted, and we didn't match it from the beginning."
"We could have come out with a different disposition to start the game," said Florida coach Billy Donovan.
"When you allow a good 3-point shooting team to get off to a good start shooting the ball, tough shots become easier shots."
While the Bulldogs were burning up the nets, Florida's early offense was brutal. The only Gator doing any damage was Kenny Boynton. The freshman hit for 16 of their 28 points. Other than him, the rest of the team shot 4-of-19 from the field.
The Bulldogs gummed up the works for the UF attack by doubling Vernon Macklin any time the Gator center got the ball. Neither he or Alex Tyus scored at all before the break, and together they put up just eight for the game.
"We had a tough night from the power forward spot," said Donovan. "Alex had four turnovers, and Dan (Werner) didn't shoot it well."
The Gators didn't quit, but they were never able to fully close the gap on the Bulldogs in the second half. MSU's lead ballooned to 19 at one point, with 71-68 after Kenny Boynton's floater with 26.2 remaining being the closest Florida was able to get. Boynton led all scorers with 23, while Erving Walker added 19.
Now Florida will wait to see if their resume will satisfy the NCAA's demands for an at large bid. Unlike last season, they have multiple quality wins and played in a much higher regarded SEC than last season. Many of the teams perceived as competing with them for the last few spots in the field have also faltered in recent days.
"We really don't know," said Walker when asked if the Gators believed they were an NCAA team. "We're just keeping our fingers crossed and waiting for Sunday."
Donovan refused to speculate on Florida's postseason possibilities, adding "When it comes it to the NCAA committee, I think you have to look at the whole body of work and I think they will."
One of the teams Florida's battling for a spot could be MSU, which might make this loss extra costly if the Bulldogs can string together another two wins and repeat their run to the SEC's automatic bid. The NCAA will announce the field Sunday night on CBS.