Egor Koulechov had a chance to be the hero, but his game-tying shot missed. Seconds later, KeVaughn Allen had a chance to be the hero, but his game-tying shot missed.
With those two misses, down went Florida, one final time in a year in which they did so with greater frequency than many predicted back in October- yet in a manner that personified the Gators’ rough and tumble season perfectly.
Florida’s season ending 69-66 loss to Texas Tech in the Round of 32 was a valiant one, but a mere microcosm of the 2017-18 season. If you watched zero seconds of Gator basketball all season and then watched the forty agonizing minutes that took place in Dallas against the Red Raiders, you would have enough information to write the perfect eulogy: the Gators didn’t have size, were too unreliable in the shooting department, couldn’t stop the opponent’s best shooter from the outside, and quite simply were not good enough to participate in the middle weekend of college basketball’s postseason tournament. It’s a sad way to put a bow on the Gators’ season, but every time we watched Florida play this season prior to their season ending defeat to Chris Beard’s Red Raiders only made an ending like this seem more and more likely- until it finally became a reality.
Jalen Hudson led the way for Florida with a more-than-respectable 23 points on the night, which actually made him the leading scorer by a lone point over Keenan Evans. But aside from him, the Gators struggled mightily offensively; Koulechov’s 12 and Chiozza’s 11 marked the only two other scoring tallies greater than seven. Florida held the lead throughout most of the first half and early in the second, but of course that evaporated with another of their patented scoring droughts that allowed Texas Tech to launch a devastating 15-2 run late in the second half to put Florida in a hole it could not recover from. And though Texas Tech tried to give Florida one final chance it truly didn’t deserve by giving the ball away in the waning seconds, Florida could not take advantage, clanking two final ill-fated shots to seal their demise.
This is the end of the road for Chris Chiozza, a warrior who did some things to drive fans crazy yet qualifies as the school’s all time assist leader and who will forever be remembered fondly for game winning miracles against Wisconsin last year and Missouri this year. It’s also the end of the road for two time transfer Egor Koulechov, who is also fondly remembered for hot streaks from the outside that earned him the moniker of “Threegor.” And it’s hard not to feel for those guys.
But the one thing you can say about this team is that it played up to its regular season expectation in the postseason. It’s much easier to remember what a team does in the regular season when its postseason results more or less match them. Ten years from now, few if any people are going to remember how dominant Virginia was in the regular season or how inconsistent 2014 UConn was in the regular season because of Virginia’s first round humiliation to UMBC and UConn’s miracle championship run. But when a team’s regular season and postseason results are fairly congruent, it’s much easier to recall the regular season. And for the Gators, it was a relatively underwhelming one, save for a sweep of Kentucky and wins over Gonzaga and Cincinnati.
So this team will be remembered above all else as a team with a high potential, and a frustrating inability to play up to it on a consistent basis. They did learn to play defense better as the season went along, but its ice cold shooting ultimately did them in when it counted most- just as it did back in December, and January, and February- and so they went down at the hands of their own inability to score for long stretches.
And let’s be honest. That’s how we all knew they would go down.