GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Missouri had one scoring drought that cost it a chance at beating No. 3 Florida.
The Tigers went four-plus minutes without a point in the second half, a scoreless stretch that proved to be the difference in a 68-58 loss to the Gators on Tuesday night.
Jabari Brown led Missouri with 15 points while Jordan Clarkson added 14. But neither came through when the Tigers needed them most.
Michael Frazier II got hot in the second half, hitting four 3-pointers. His third one in a 2-minute span put Florida ahead for good, 51-48. Patric Young’s driving layup with 4:10 remaining gave the Gators (20-2, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) a 58-48 lead.
"They made shots and we didn’t. That’s pretty much it," Brown said. "I don’t know what else to say about it. We got some good looks, but we didn’t make the shots."
Missouri’s 3-point shooting kept the Tigers (16-6, 4-5) in it for much of the game.
Missouri made 8 of 21 from behind the arc, but just 4 of 13 in the second half.
"We knew it was going to be a slugfest," coach Frank Haith said. "We were OK with that. … Our game plan was good and we were executing. Then they got going. They got it in the paint, they got to the free-throw line and got aggressive there in the second half, and that was the difference in the game."
Frazier finished with 14 points. Scottie Wilbekin had a career-high 19. He was 13 of 16 from the free throw line, most of them down the stretch. Young chipped in 13 points and six rebounds.
But Frazier’s 3s were the key.
"He’s one of a kind," Wilbekin said. "There’s not too many shooters out there that’s better than Frazier."
Florida coach Billy Donovan notched his 16th consecutive 20-win season. Only Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have longer active streaks.
Donovan’s current team has some issues — shaky free throw shooting and few long-range threats outside Frazier — but the addition of Chris Walker could increase Florida’s chances of making another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
A forward from Bonifay in Florida’s panhandle, Walker sat out 12 games, or 40 percent of the season, because the NCAA determined he "received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents." The NCAA said Walker and people close to him accepted free cellphones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel while he was a prospect.
"I was like 16 or 17," Walker said. "I really had no idea about the rules and everything."
Walker was ordered to donate the $270 received from the agents to a charity of his choice and serve 80 hours of community service.
After failing to qualify academically and spending the fall taking online classes to gain eligibility, Walker joined the team Dec. 14 and has been practicing since. His debut, though, was on hold as the NCAA wrapped up its investigation. He was cleared to play last week, setting up his much-anticipated debut.
Walker had four points, two rebounds and two blocked shots in 7 minutes. Both of his baskets came on thunderous dunks in the final 2:07 of the first half. He finished alley-oops from fellow freshman and former AAU teammate Kasey Hill. The second one had the O’Connell Center rocking — but just briefly.
Brown hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer a few seconds later, giving Missouri a 28-25 lead.
But it didn’t last, mostly because Florida started playing inside-out and clamping down on defense.
"They’re a veteran team. They’ve played together for a long time," forward Ryan Rosburg said. "They have seniors and that’s what you expect. We knew that coming in here. … And if we wanted to win, we had to make those plays down the stretch and we didn’t."