Gators upset Marshall in a close call

Remember that Florida ball club that shot the ball so well and defended with passion on the way to winning three games over four days at the Charleston Classic last week?

Apparently, it’s still in South Carolina.

“We weren’t the same team,” UF coach Mike White said late Friday night.

His words were delivered somewhat softly and backed by frustration, after the 24th-ranked Gators fell behind, then rallied for a double-digit lead, but ultimately had to hold on for dear life to finish a 73-67 victory over Marshall in front of more than 10,000 at Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center.

Andrew Nembhard hit a short jumper, Dontay Bassett had a big blocked shot, and Noah Locke hit a pair of free throws all in the final 19 seconds, as Florida (6-2) won its fourth straight but looked nothing close to sharp in doing so against the Thundering Herd (2-4) from Conference USA.

How ’bout four assists for the Gators — Four! — compared to 14 turnovers? How ’bout going 0-for-11 from the 3-point line through the game’s first 26 1/2 minutes? How ’bout surrendering nine consecutive points over 75 seconds in the final two minutes?

“We were about to take an ugly one,” UF sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson said after scoring all 13 of his points and grabbing all but one of his five rebounds after halftime. “We just had to battle.”

In the end, the Gators prevailed by making enough plays down the stretch to hold off an overachieving second low-major opponent in as many home games. UF’s last appearance in the O’Dome was a 66-60 defeat of Towson, out of the Colonial Athletic Association, on Nov. 14. That one was deadlocked with a minute remaining.

Like that one, UF needed to a second-half jolt to erase an eight-point deficit at intermission and avoid an embarrassing home defeat against an over-matched opponent; albeit, one that refused to back down.

“It was a wake-up call,” Johnson said.

Shouldn’t the Towson game have been one, also?

Florida fell behind, 33-25, at halftime by shooting just 30 percent from the floor (without an assist) and going 0-for-10 from the 3-point line just five days after beating then-No. 18 Xavier in the Charleston final, and shooting a collective 48 percent overall and nearly 41 percent from long distance over the three-game tournament. The Gators popped out of the locker room with the first 10 points of the second half to take a lead, grinded to a 13-point advantage with less than six minutes to go, and were up by 11 with two minutes remaining, only to give up nine straight points and lead by just two with 45 seconds left.

Those 75 seconds broken down:

* UF missed the only field goal it attempted, turned the ball over twice and had graduate-transfer forward Kerry Blackshear (10 points, 4 rebounds) not only foul out, but get hit with a technical for arguing the call.

* Marshall (2-4), meanwhile was the more poised team, hitting three of four shots, including its only 3-point try to go with a pair of free throws. When 6-foot-9, 300-pound center Iran Bennett (16 points, 6 rebounds, 7-for-12 shooting) converted a old-time 3-point play, the Gators led just 69-67 with 45 seconds to play.

“Iran is a load,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said.

And Florida had a load of pressure to deal with.

Freshman guard Ques Glover drives to two of his team- and career-high 14 points Friday.

Nembhard (8 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers) stopped the bleeding, though, by backing down the Herd’s 5-11 point guard Jarrod West and hitting a turn-around jumper in the paint with 19 seconds remaining to push UF ahead by four. On the Herd’s ensuing possession, guard Taevion Kinsey (14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) attacked the basket from the right baseline but was met on the block by Johnson and Bassett, with both players contesting the shot and Bassett blocking the ball away and into the hands of Locke, who was fouled.

“I saw the ball and made a play on it,” said Bassett, who had season highs of six points and seven rebounds to go with his big late swat. “I tried my best to get all ball so they wouldn’t call a foul.”

Locke, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half after an 0-for-5 first 20 minutes, knocked down two free throw with 12.7 seconds left to wrap the scoring.

The Gators got a team- and career-best 14 points from freshman reserve guard Ques Glover and also shot nearly 61 percent in the second half, including 4-for-8 from the 3-point line after that abysmal 0-for-10 showing before intermission. They were better in the second half, especially early, in scoring the period’s first 10 points (the first six on free throws in attacking the rim), but why did it have to come to this?

For White, the across-the-board performance was reflective of what the Gators rolled out the previous two days of practice, after having taken Monday and Tuesday off following their long and successful run through Charleston. “Horrendous” was how he described his team’s work the last couple days.

Maybe they spent too much time thinking they had everything figured out, rather than trying to build on what they accomplished in the tournament setting away from home.

“We come together, we make a significant jump offensively and defensively, but especially offensively,” White said of the tournament showing. “The post-game locker room [after Xavier], in an attempt to avoid [a game like this], went right to the noise — to no avail. Whether you want to call it being comfortable, feeling yourself, whatever. … We were geeked up as a staff, ready to roll, go to work, continue riding that momentum, and we had a really, really bad practice [Wednesday]. Came back [Thursday] and had almost equally as bad a practice and played like it tonight.”

The shoot-around Friday afternoon wasn’t much better, either.

“We have to have better focus and lock in better at practice,” Johnson said. “We can’t take the time we have together for granted. Anybody can beat anybody.”