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Bates’ 36 not enough as Missouri basketball gets chomped by Florida

The loss keeps the Tigers winless in SEC play.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Entering Saturday night, Mizzou (8-10, 0-5 SEC) was still without a conference win. Facing a Florida squad that was 1-3 in SEC play and was coming off of a blowout loss at Tennessee, the Tigers seemed to have a solid opportunity to pick up their first conference victory.

Unfortunately for Dennis Gates’ squad, they’ll have to keep searching as the Gators walked out of Mizzou Arena with a 79-67 win behind a balanced scoring attack that saw five players score in double digits.

“It’s a game of runs,” head coach Dennis Gates said. “I truly believe we were able to sustain a run early but not as much as we want{ed later}...I think we only had a four-point lead at the most. We had opportunities to extend that, wasn’t able to extend it past four, and I thought that allowed Florida to be a little bit more comfortable on the road than they should have been.”

Debuting their retro gold jerseys, Mizzou had a retro opening to the game, as they looked like last year’s Tigers at the start on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they pushed the pace, cut with intent and attacked the basket with ferocity. Defensively, Mizzou put heavy pressure on the ball and were creating havoc. At the first media timeout with 15:38 left in the half, Mizzou led 6-5.

“For most of the game, they were putting two on the ball. They were trapping our guards,” Florida head coach Todd Golden said. “If you’re not ready for it, and if you don’t have poise, that’s an easy thing to turn over because Missouri really likes to run through those passing lanes.”

Despite the perceived reset for UF, the Tigers continued to create chaos on defense. MU’s traps off of screens and in-bounds plays put the Gators in a whirlwind. They turned the ball over three times in a span of less than two minutes, two of which led to Mizzou baskets.

The initial batch of scoring was done by Sean East II and Tamar Bates. Both found success off the dribble and inside the arc, as they combined for 12 of Mizzou’s first 14 points.

Towards the end of the first half, Florida began finding a rhythm offensively, while Mizzou suddenly went cold. After converting five shots in a row, the Tigers missed their next four. On the other end, Micah Handlogten jammed a two-hander off of a clunky drive and dish from Tyrese Samuel. Then, after an East misfire, Walter Clayton Jr. knocked down a second-chance three to put UF up 22-20 with 6:50 left in the half.

The rest of the half remained relatively even. Florida began finding ways around Mizzou’s traps and converted a few baskets as a result of the man advantages they were able to create. On the other end, Bates’ shooting hand stayed hot, as there was a stretch that saw him score seven straight points for the Tigers.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

“The way they were trapping the middle ball screen, I thought our bigs did an excellent job handling that pressure,” Golden said.

Bates ended the half with 17 points, but his team ended the half down 37-34. Florida drove to the basket often and found the bottom of the net often; their last nine points of the half came on dunks and free throws.

The second half featured both teams getting buckets. The first offensive possession of the half for MU saw Bates attack the basket, hang in the air, double clutch and finish with his right hand. Two possessions later, Bates sized up his defender and knocked down a midrange jumper. After a Nick Honor corner three, Bates drove down the left side and put in a floater. After the floater, he barked at Mizzou’s bench in a rush of dominance.

“Tamar takes what’s given to him,” Gates said. “He’s an excellent scorer...individual performance-wise, that was probably one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.”

The only problem for Mizzou was that Florida quickly rekindled their groove as well. They continued eluding Mizzou’s heavy traps, and they knocked down their first three shots of the half. They held a 47-43 lead with 16:15 left.

After a Clayton Jr. jumper gave UF their largest lead of the game at six, Mizzou came right back with two quick baskets, only for UF to respond with five straight points to increase their lead to eight.

Both teams would trade baskets over the next few minutes until around the 7:30 mark. With the Gators up by eight, Mizzou missed their fifth consecutive shot, and on the other end, Riley Kugel swished a three-pointer from about the logo to put UF ahead by 11, their first double-digit lead of the night.

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From that point on, it was all blue and orange. The Tigers couldn’t recapture the magic that’d propelled them for most of the first half, as they fell out of rhythm on offense and couldn’t create anywhere near the amount of chaos on defense that they were in the first half. While Bates continued to score, no one else wearing gold could. When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read Florida 79, Mizzou 67.

“Consistently, we’re messing up on the small things,” guard Nick Honor said. “Whether that’s getting the rebound or stopping teams from second-chance points...we’re really right there. We just have to be consistent in what we’re doing.”

Bates was on fire for most of Saturday night — he tied his career-high of 25 points with 16:55 left in regulation and ended the night with 36, the first 30-point game from a Tiger this season. However, no other gold jersey got going on offense. MU’s second leading scorer was Honor with 10 points, followed by East and Noah Carter with six apiece. While Mizzou shot almost 60% from inside the arc, the Tigers shot just 3/16 from three.

Mizzou did a lot of good on Saturday night. Bates had a career night. They shot 18/21 from the free throw line and turned the ball over just five times. But Florida did more, and Mizzou remains without a conference victory as the calendar quickly approaches February.

Missouri mascot Truman the Tiger lies down on the court during Missouri's Jan. 20 game against Florida after a student missed a golf putt challenge during a timeout in which he could have won a cash prize. Missouri lost to Florida, 79-67. (Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation)

Despite the sluggish start to conference play, Honor says that the team remains optomistic.

“Not really,” Honor said when asked if the team is feeling any major frustration or a loss of confidence. “Losing sucks. Nobody really likes it. But we all just got to stay focused on our’s not like we’re getting blown out. We just got to move onto the next one and just try to be 1-0 every game.”

The Tigers will next venture to College Station to take on a seasoned and tough Texas A&M team (10-8) at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.