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Florida’s poor track record in close games is worrisome

Feb 19, 2013, 11:45 PM EDT

Laurence Bowers, Erik Murphy

With Missouri leading 61-60 and less than 20 seconds left on the clock, No. 5 Florida had the ball with a chance to pick up a win over the second-best team in the SEC on the road.

The question that rippled through twitter at that exact moment: “Who does Florida give the ball to here?”

And it’s a legitimate concern for the Gators. Who is their go-to guy? Who gets the ball for them in the clutch? Who can they trust to get a good shot in a big moment and make it? Because what they ended up with on Tuesday night was Kenny Boynton pulling up for three from about 23 feet with a good seven seconds left on the clock. He missed, and Missouri won, 63-60.

This came one possession after Boynton attempted another three with a minute left in the game and Florida again down one. He missed that, too.

The irony here?

The shot that Florida got — Rosario from deep in the corner — after Keion Bell’s free throws 3.1 seconds was better than either look Boynton had. That came after Florida went the length of the floor without having a timeout to draw up a play.

Now, frankly, I don’t have a huge issue with the Gators affinity for the three-ball. They took 54 shots tonight, and 33 of them were from beyond the arc. On the season, 41.3% of their shots have come from distance. It’s who they are. It’s who they’ve been. It got them to the Elite 8 last season, and this year’s team is built around their stout, versatile defense. I can deal with it.

The problem I have is with the way Florida executes down the stretch in close games.

Florida has played three close games this season. They’ve lost all three. Every other time they’ve stepped foot on the floor, it’s been a blowout — and with the exception of one fateful half at Arkansas, it’s been the Gators that have been doing the dominating.

But those three close games are the ones that stick out. Florida blew a six-point lead in the final minute at Arizona back in November. They blew a 13 point second half lead Tuesday night. I don’t mean to bring up bad memories, but the Gators also blew an 11 point lead in the final eight minutes against Louisville in last year’s NCAA tournament.

And unless you count home wins over Missouri (without Laurence Bowers), Ole Miss or Kentucky (in the game Nerlens Noel got injured) as quality wins, Florida hasn’t really beaten anyone relevant since November 29th, when they steamrolled Marquette at home.

There’s no questioning Florida’s ability to defend, and there’s no denying just how good they have played for the overwhelming majority of the season.

But for a defensive-minded team — especially one that relies as heavily as the Gators do on the three-ball — struggling to close out close games is a problem.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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