GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Through the first six games of the season, Florida showed what it can look like when all of its offensive weapons are clicking.
The last two games, the Gators showed what happens when they aren’t — and coach Mike White is hoping the players take a hard lesson from that.
No. 5 Florida trailed by as many as 13 points and trailed most of the game in general against Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday night on the way to a 65-59 loss inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
Two nights after a humbling 83-66 home loss to Florida State that left White searching for answers in his postgame comments, the Gators (5-3) delivered another ice-cold offensive performance while shooting 36.9 percent from the field and only 2 of 19 from 3-point range.
The Gators didn’t have a single player score in double figures. Jalen Hudson (3 of 11 from the field, 0-5 on 3s) and Chris Chiozza finished with 9 points each, KeVaughn Allen (3-of-11, 1-5 from 3) and Keith Stone scored 8 and Egor Koulechov (3-of-13, 0-3 from 3) and Deaundrae Ballard scored 7 each.
The Gators have shot a miserable 18 percent from 3-point range (8 of 44) in the last two games, and including a hard-fought loss to No. 1 Duke on Nov. 26 they have now dropped three in a row overall after shooting up the rankings with their high-scoring 5-0 start.
“I don’t think we can get any lower than this,” Hudson said. “I’m sure we’re out of the rankings. I mean, none of that even matters, but this is as low as we can get. We’ve got to completely change everything that we’re doing and go back to the basics.”
White is hoping that sentiment has sunk in throughout the team after these last two games, going from nearly beating the top-ranked team in the country to taking back-to-back defeats to a pair of unranked opponents.
“We’re a team that has been told for about two months how good they are. It’s been at an all-time high in the past 10 days, so hopefully we’ve been humbled a little bit,” White said, harping on the Gators’ defensive struggles.
“We can not shoot our way into being an elite team. It’s not going to happen. Hopefully our guys know why now. You have to learn how to win games when you’re not making shots at a high level. And this group has zero buy-in with that aspect. Hopefully more buy-in now. Hopefully it will start improving, not that I wish for a loss ever.”
Loyola-Chicago (9-1), out of the Missouri Valley Conference, peaked its lead at 13 points midway through the first half before the Gators cut the deficit to just 1 in the final minute before halftime on a steal and basket by Allen.
The hosts then took a 39-38 lead early in the second half when the visiting Ramblers sailed an inbounds pass too far, Kevarrius Hayes intercepted it at midcourt and took it the rest of the way for a go-ahead dunk.
But it was short-lived as Loyola-Chicago regained the lead on its ensuing possession and got up by as much as 8 points from there.
Florida cut its deficit to 61-59 with 1:28 remaining on a steal and driving basket from Chiozza. After Loyola-Chicago missed on the other end, the crowd came alive as Florida had a chance to tie or take the lead, but Hudson missed a corner 3.
Aggressive help defense by Chiozza forced a tie up and a jump ball, with the alternating possession giving it back to the Gators with 35.6 seconds left. Allen missed a layup and Hayes appeared to tip in the tying basket with 22.2 seconds on the clock, but it was waived off as the referee ruled he interfered with the ball while it was still in the cylinder.
Cameron Satterwhite hit two free throws at the other end to push the Ramblers’ lead to 63-59 with 15.9 to go and that was the beginning of the end.
Chiozza missed a layup, Florida retained possession, Hudson missed a corner 3 and Koulechov missed a shot under the basket to end the comeback hopes.
White said he didn’t want to use the word “embarrassing,” but he threw it out there nonetheless. Hudson, meanwhile, didn’t hesitate.
“I can’t put a word on it. It’s pretty embarrassing. You know what I mean, so embarrassing,” he said.
Aundre Jackson led Loyola-Chicago with 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting as the Ramblers shot 52 percent overall as a team, taking advantage of open 3s and other defensive lapses.
While Florida came in ranked second in the country in scoring at 94.7 points per game and again fell way below the standard it set through the first six games, it was the defensive struggles that frustrated White the most.
“It’s just not our strength right now. Physicality, sitting down in a stance, learning how to get stops, stringing together stops. It’s not who we are right now,” he said. “Two games in a row, that’s who needed to be because we couldn’t find the hole. If it hadn’t sunk in now with our guys, I don’t know that it will. …
“It starts with me. We are not a very good defensive team. We’re not very tough, and that starts with me.”
Florida hosts No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday, giving the team a couple days of practice to try to address its issues.
For Hudson, that means starting over.
“I have no idea what’s happening. If I knew, I’d be able to share it, be able to fix it. It’s not one thing. It’s a lot of things. … We’re not ready to play. We don’t start the game ready to play, we don’t finish the game. I mean, we’re not hitting shots, we’re not guarding. Guards aren’t guarding, bigs aren’t guarding. It’s like nobody is doing anything,” Hudson said.
“Obviously we thought we were on our way to something, and we don’t know where it fell apart. We’ve got to go back to the beginning in order to build the foundation from the beginning again.”
NOTES: White gave Ballard, a freshman, his first career start while having his leading scorer (Hudson) and third-leading scorer (Allen) come off the bench.
“I thought Deaundrae Ballard played harder than anybody on our team two nights ago in a game where we were embarrassed at home, so I was going to start him. Not necessarily penalizing anybody else, but I was going to start him,” White said. “… I want to set a tone with our team that starting doesn’t matter to me; winning matters to me. And I’m going to reward guys that are doing what we’re asking them to do.”