After the first few minutes, it all seemed so certain. The No. 7 Florida Gators bolted to an early lead over No. 1 Duke in their final game of the Phil Knight Invitational and had the signature win in hand.
But Duke wouldn’t let the Gators register a noteworthy win that easily.
The Blue Devils rallied late in the second half to defeat the Gators, 87-84, on Sunday to close out their three-game effort in the PK80 in Portland, Ore. Florida dropped to 5-1 on the season, while Duke improved to 8-0.
Florida opened the tournament with a 108-87 win over Stanford on Thursday and then defeated No. 17 Gonzaga, 111-105, in double overtime one night later.
Even in the loss, Florida once again showed it has a bevy of contributors on offense, with four players producing double-figure scoring nights. Redshirt junior Jalen Hudson posted his first career double-double with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza filled up the stat sheet yet again with 13 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. KeVaughn Allen and Egor Koulechov scored 17 and 15 points, respectively.
The Gators wasted no time jumping out in front. A wickedly efficient offense and steady defense over the first 7 minutes, 30 seconds helped Florida cruise to a 24-10 lead. Duke then switched to a zone defense and began feeding forward Marvin Bagley, guard Grayson Allen and guard Gary Trent Jr. The trio fueled a nearly 10-minute outburst in which the Blue Devils outscored the Gators, 36-15, and take a lead late in the first half.
Florida outscored Duke 14-3 in the final 2:37 after that mid-half lull to go up 53-49 at the half. Chiozza scored 7 of those points.
The Gators extended their lead to as many as 17 points midway through the second half, courtesy of a 13-0 run. A late run by Duke gave the Blue Devils a 1-point lead with 1:12 left to play.
A missed free throw from Hudson and a shot-clock violation from Duke gave Florida one last opportunity with 23.4 seconds left to play.
As Hudson tried to make a move in the paint, the ball slipped out of his grasp. Allen recovered and the ball game fell out of the Gators’ control. A couple free throws from Trent sealed the outcome.
Despite the loss, this Florida team showed during its three games in Portland a glimpse of just how far it can go in its third year under coach Mike White.
The Gators averaged 101 points during the four-day trip and saw the offense play at a high level in all three games. However, the team also still relies heavily on the three-point shot and needs to shore up its interior defense. The latter will come with time, as center John Egbunu is still rehabbing his torn ACL and not expected to be cleared to play until SEC play.
But if Florida is still working toward its ceiling, the Gators have the chance to be lethal once postseason play begins.
The Gators have a week off before returning to the O’Connell Center to play Florida State on Dec. 4.