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Florida Basketball

Instant Analysis: Slow Start Dooms Gators in Orange Bowl Classic

December 21, 2019
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WCC: Florida-Utah State Game Thread

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It was much of the same struggles for the Florida Gators (7-4) as they lost to the Utah State Aggies (12-2) 65-62 Saturday in Sunrise, FL as part of the Orange Bowl Classic. Coming off their best game of the year a week ago in a blowout win over Providence, the Gators seemingly left their game in New Jersey, dropping their fourth game of the year.

Here is our Instant Analysis.

What Went Wrong: Unfortunately for the Gators, they’ve developed a pattern to not play a whole 40-minute game. That was the case again Saturday, as Florida was just too hot-and-cold against Utah State.

After an abysmal start shooting the ball, Florida was able to crawl back into the game and saw themselves all squared at half. At points in the second half, the Gators would go on timely runs and even held a six-point lead at one point. However, they would go cold for extended periods of time and the Aggies capitalized.

Who Stole The Show: Sam Merrill entered the game at Utah State’s leading scorer and the senior showed why he is the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year. Merrill took over in the second half for the Aggies scoring and facilitating. He finished with 21 points, 5 assists and grabbed a career-high 9 rebounds. Merrill delivered the dagger, nailing a three to put the Aggies but six with just over a minute remaining.

It was another double-double performance for Kerry Blackshear Jr., leading the Gators in scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, seven of those coming on the offensive glass. The Gators big-man was money from the charity stripe, going 15-for-17, but shot just 3-for-14 from the field and looked fatigued down the stretch as Utah State was sending multiple bodies on him down-low in the paint.

The Numbers Don’t Lie: The first 10-minutes in this one was a nightmare for Florida. Despite getting some decent looks to start the game, the Gators started 0-for-14 from the field. However, a Blackshear three broke the cylinder for the Gators and they would go on to make eight of their next-14. Florida would go on to shoot just 29% from the field in the first half, but still found themselves all squared at the half.

The second half started better for the Gators, but they couldn’t maintain. Florida shot 35% from the field in the second, but couldn’t stop the Aggies offensively as they shot an impressive 50% in the second half.

Bottom Line: That was just too much of an inconsistent performance for the Gators and it cost them. Starting a game 0-for-14 from the field is inexcusable and it likely was the reason they lost. Had they knocked down a few jumpers in the opening moments of this game, it could’ve ended in a different result.

The Gators will hope they can find some sort of consistency with conference play looming on the schedule. Inconsistencies was the story of the team in conference play last year and head coach Mike White knows they have to be better in SEC play. 

Utah State is a really good, veteran-led team that will most likely be dancing in March, so give them a lot of credit in getting the job done.. But with that being said, this is one the Gators should’ve had.

What’s Next: The Gators will get a week off for the holidays before they return to Gainesville next Saturday for their first home game in a month. They’ll play host to Long Beach State (3-9) in a noon matinee. It will be Florida’s last non-conference game before conference play kicks off to start the new year.

 

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