Florida basketball: Gators take crushing OT loss to Georgia after squandering 11-point lead

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — This Florida basketball team has had trouble in second halves this season, rough finishes that have taken them out of games and made for this rollercoaster of a season.

That all-too-familiar story line played out again Wednesday night against Georgia as the Gators squandered an 11-point second-half lead, turned the ball over with 14.9 seconds left on a traveling violation and yielded a game-tying 3-pointer to Bulldogs star Yante Maten to force overtime.

Georgia then pulled away in the extra period to seal a 72-69 win inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center and complete a season sweep of the Gators.

The Bulldogs (14-11, 5-8 SEC) has just two wins in its last eight games, both over Florida (17-9, 8-5).

Maten struck first again in overtime with layup to push the Bulldogs ahead and they led 66-60 after Tyree Crump knocked in another 3.

KeVaughn Allen answered back for Florida with a 3 of his own to make it 66-63, and it was 68-65 with 2:07 to play after Maten and Allen traded points.

With 50.5 seconds to go, Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide was sent to the line after a loose ball foul and missed both, but Chris Chiozza missed a 3 on the other end.

The Gators would get another chance, though.

Crump hit two free throws with 18.6 seconds left to make it 70-65, Mike Okauru made a quick layup for Florida with 12.6 on the clock, Pape Daitta made one of two free throws and Chiozza raced down court for another quick layup to make it 71-69 with 4.4 on the clock.

Florida sent Juwan Parker to the line with 3.8 second remaining and he made 1 of 2 free throws to leave the door open for the Gators, but Chiozza’s final 3 went off the rim to end the game.

Maten, a leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year honors, led Georgia with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Egor Koulechov led Florida with 19 points and 6 boards, Allen scored 19 as well and Okauru added 14.

Florida had peaked its lead at 50-39 on a jumper from Allen midway through the second half, and the Gators led 51-42 with less than 7 minutes to play.

But Georgia reeled off the next 8 points to make it a 51-50 game with 3:33 to play.

Needing a basket to stem the turning tide, Florida was running out of time on the shot clock when Koulechov got the ball on the perimeter and drove in for a tough basket while drawing the foul. He hit the ensuing free throw to push the Gators’ lead to 54-50 with 2:36 left to play.

Georgia turned it over on a travel, Chiozza missed a tough layup and Maten missed for the Bulldogs.

Then the Gators got the ball back in the hands of Koulechov, who brought the crowd to its feet with a huge 3-pointer to make it a 57-50 game.

Crump answered back with a 3 with just more than a minute remaining to make it a 4-point margin again, but the Bulldogs turned it over on their next possession with 25.6 seconds left.

The visitors immediately fouled Koulechov with 24.7 on the clock, and he converted both free throws to push the lead to 59-53, but the game was far from over.

Maten hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, and Florida’s Jalen Hudson was whistled for the travel on the inbounds, giving the ball back to Georgia with 14.9 seconds left. With time winding down, Maten struck again, dropping in the game-tying 3 from the top of the key.

This is a deflating loss for the Gators, who had seemed to be getting back on track with two straight wins after dropping three straight SEC games before that.

The rollercoaster season continues.

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