You never really got the feeling Missouri would upset Florida Tuesday night in Gainesville, Fla., but the Tigers played the Gators even for much of the night.
Then, in the final eight minutes, the Gators’ SEC-best defense tightened even more than usual and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II hit three consecutive 3-pointers. What was a two-point Tigers lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the half became a 10-point deficit with less than five minutes to go.
The 68-58 final marked Missouri’s largest loss of the season as well as its lowest-scoring output since last year’s game at Florida. That one was much more ugly for Missouri, which was blown out 83-52.
Three takeaways from a game that will be remembered nationally for the debut of Florida freshman Chris Walker, who scored four points on two alley-oop dunks:
Brown and Clarkson show off their stuff
With a handful of NBA scouts reportedly at the O’Connell Center, Missouri juniors Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson did little to jump into the first round or anything. But they didn’t really hurt their budding prospects, either. In other words, their decision to declare for the NBA draft will have to hinge on far more than what they did or didn’t do against the Gators.
Both finished below their season averages with 15 points by Brown and 14 from Clarkson, but they also turned in some impressive plays.
Brown made a 3-pointer from about 30 feet at the first-half buzzer that he shot with the ease of a 15-footer. He made one nearly as long in the second half during his one hot stretch. Brown finished with six assists, which tied a season-high.
Clarkson also hit a couple of 3’s and showed his ability to get to the basket in traffic, no easy challenge against the Gators’ stifling defense. He did not turn the ball over against Florida’s full-court pressure but often needed so much time to get the ball past the half-court line that Missouri ended up rushing shots to beat the shot clock.
To actually win the game, though, they needed more from the third member of the terrific trio, Earnest Ross. He endured his second straight subpar outing, making only one of eight shots to finish with a season-low three points.
Though Missouri freshmen Wes Clark and Torren Jones both made positive contributions, both also came up empty on second-half fast breaks that hurt the Tigers. Jones was open right under the basket after a steal by Clark but was unable to hang on to a pass from Brown and the ball went out of bounds. On the Tigers’ next possession, Clark made another steal and took off for the basket but his layup attempt was too strong and banged off the front rim.
Both misplays were examples of what coaches often say about the game going too fast for many young players. As both players gain experience, such unforced errors figure to decline.
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Though Clark also had trouble against Florida’s defensive pressure, he still finished with a productive game, making two difficult 3-pointers and adding three rebounds, two assists and two steals. In an unusually balanced first-half attack by the Tigers, Jones converted two inside passes to score his first points in nearly a month.
Strong first half
With six players contributing points, including Ryan Rosburg with their first four, the Tigers accomplished something no other team has at Florida this season. Missouri held the lead at halftime, 28-25.
The Tigers looked much better closing out on 3-point shooters and Florida, not a strong shooting team, missed 10 of 11 3’s in the first half. But the Tigers did not have much success defending the long-distance shots after intermission. With Frazier leading the way, Florida hit five of nine 3-point attempts. On at least two of his makes, Frazier was given too much room by Missouri defenders.
Florida had tied the game at 25 on Walker’s second dunk and, as the crowd was responding, Brown coolly knocked in a long 3-pointer with less than a second to go.
But when Florida took over in the second half, the Tigers ended up with their first loss of the season after leading at halftime.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.