Florida has no answer for Nicolas Claxton in critical loss to Georgia
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Georgia came so close the last two weeks. Four one-possession games — all losses — against four NCAA Tournament teams.
Nicolas Claxton didn’t let it happen again.
Claxton scored a career-high 25 points, including four in the final two minutes, and the Bulldogs upset Florida 61-55 Saturday night to end a nine-game losing streak.
Claxton dominated the Gators inside and out, offensively and defensively. He made 9 of 12 shots and altered several on the other end. He was at his best down the stretch, hitting a driving layup and then scoring on a spinning post move the next possession.
“Our defense had no answers for Claxton,” Florida coach Mike White said. “He hit a couple of high-level shots there.”
Claxton also blocked a shot and nearly another in the waning minutes.
“I thought Claxton dominated the game, especially the last 10 minutes and especially on the defensive end,” White said. “If he didn’t block it, he altered it. He was terrific.”
The 6-foot-11 sophomore’s previous career best was 22 points against Illinois State in mid-November.
Jordan Harris essentially sealed the victory with a driving layup that put the Bulldogs (11-18, 2-14 Southeastern Conference) up 59-55 with 27 seconds remaining. Florida fans headed to the exits after KeVaughn Allen misfired in the lane a few seconds later.
“It’s disheartening, disappointing,” Florida senior Kevarrius Hayes said. “As a leader on this team, I suppose I should have put more emphasis on how we needed to be prepared for this game. This is a very good league and anybody can potentially come in here and steal one. I feel like we just handed one right to them.”
Now, the Gators (17-12, 9-7) will wait to see how damaging the loss proves to be to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Florida had won five in a row, including road wins against Alabama and LSU, to bolster its postseason resume. But with regular-season games remaining against LSU and Kentucky, it’s conceivable the Gators could head into Selection Sunday on a four-game losing streak.
“Just got to get our edge back,” said Jalen Hudson, who led Florida with 13 points. “It might actually be good for us that we took this loss. We’ll be so hungry and it’ll be our last home game.”
Florida’s leading scorer KeVaughn Allen finished with five points on 1-of-10 shooting. Andrew Nembhard spent time in the locker room because of back spasms and finished with eight points and four assists.
“Our guys were completely locked in, and that’s a lot easier said than done when you haven’t got the result that we’ve been wanting to get with as close as we’ve been as of late,” first-year Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “I’m really proud of the character of our guys coming out to get a win against a great Florida team.”
The Gators were 5 of 21 from 3-point range and outscored 34-22 in the paint. Claxton did much of the damage.
“He almost seemed 7 feet on the floor,” Hudson said. “Super long, had a bunch of moves, spin moves off the bounce, off the dribble and he was catching it so close to the basket that it was hard to keep him out of the paint. Once he got even closer, it was hard to even contest his shot because he’s so long. He was able to shoot it over most of us. We had some trouble guarding him tonight.”
Georgia: The Bulldogs’ last four losses came against teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament, and all of them were nail-biters. They had a chance to win each won — against LSU, Mississippi State, Mississippi and Auburn — but came up short each time. They finally broke through against Florida.
Florida: The Gators fell to 4-7 in games decided by seven points or less, a major concern whether they make the tournament or not.
Georgia hosts Missouri on Wednesday. It will be Senior Night for starters William Jackson, Derek Ogbeide and Christian Harrison as well as reserves E’Torrion Wilridge, Connor O’Neill and Mike Edwards.
Florida hosts LSU on Wednesday, a rematch from two weeks ago. The Gators won the first meeting and will recognize its three seniors — KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes — before the home finale.