The Florida Gators held a nine-point with less than six minutes to play in the second half against Clemson on Saturday.
They had their struggles throughout the game, sure, but with the game winding down, it looked like the Gators would be able to come away with their second straight win and begin to push that three-game losing streak further into the past.
And then out came Clemson.
The Tigers bolted onto a 12-2 run — a mix of Florida getting into another offensive funk and Clemson capitalizing on its final possessions — with a dunk by forward Elijah Thomas giving the Tigers a rare lead.
After KeVaughn Allen’s final 3 point attempt fell short on the ensuing possession, so did the Gators’ chances.
Final score at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla.: Clemson 71, No. 22 Florida 69.
Florida (6-4) has now lost four of its past five games.
While the Gators held the lead for the bulk of the first half, their advantage never felt secure. After jumping out to a 10-4 lead in the first six minutes, Florida’s lead was never more than four points until Egor Koulechov ripped off a step-back, one-footed three-point shot to close out the half and give the Gators a 40-33 advantage heading into intermission. The Gators closed out the half by making four of their final five shots.
Florida extended its lead to 12 points, 47-35, before Clemson (9-1) chipped away at its deficit one free throw at a time. Six Gators fouls resulted in 10 made Clemson free throws and a 12-2 run overall that brought Florida’s lead to just two points with just more than 14 minutes to play.
After bringing its lead back up to nine points, Florida surrendered a 10-point run capped by a Gabe DeVoe 3-point shot to give Clemson its first lead since early in the first half.
A Chiozza layup and Keith Stone block gave the Gators the lead yet again, but Thomas’ dunk sealed Florida’s fate. Florida missed nine of its final 10 shots to close out the game and shot 41 percent from the field for the game. Clemson made 51.1 percent of its shots and went 20-for-28 from the free-throw line.
Jalen Hudson scored a game-high 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting and scored Florida’s first 12 points of the game. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza and Allen joined in on the scoring flurry as well after early struggles, chipping in 14 and 12 points, respectively. Koulechov chipped in 8 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
And now it’s back to the drawing board with just two more games until SEC play begins.
Florida now prepares for a three-game homestand that includes games against James Madison on Wednesday, Incarnate Word on Friday and the SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.