GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida followed an impressive November with a disastrous December.
Tim Williams scored 21 points, DeAndre Hersey had a putback with 1.8 seconds remaining and South Alabama stunned the 18th-ranked Gators 67-66 on Tuesday night.
Florida (8-3) lost its third straight, hardly what anyone envisioned after an 8-0 start that included November wins against Florida State, Michigan State and Rutgers.
“It’s never ever smooth sailing,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Our first eight games, it was great and now all of a sudden there’s three losses. To me, it’s the resiliency, it’s your ability to fight back, it’s your ability to battle. … I think our guys are going to have to dig deep down inside and try to battle to get through.”
It was Florida’s first home loss in December since 2004 against Louisville. The Gators have a week to think about this one, and will spend the extra time trying to figure out what happened to a team that showed promise early.
“We came out hungry and I guess the rankings got to our heads,” guard Kenny Boynton said. “We played with a chip on our shoulder and then somehow we got complacent. We’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Florida rallied from a seven-point deficit in the second half, and had the lead and the ball with less than a minute to play. But Chandler Parsons, who finished 1 of 8 from the field, misfired on a wild runner in the lane with 18 seconds remaining.
The Jaguars (9-4) called time out with 12.7 seconds left and found a play they thought would work. It did, but not quite by design.
Williams drove the lane, but his shot clanged off the rim. The Gators failed to block out Hersey, who grabbed the rebound and put it back up for the game winner. It was South Alabama’s 16th offensive board.
Florida had one final chance, but Erving Walker’s desperation heave from halfcourt hit the back of the rim.
“I told our team to allow us to give ourselves a heck of a Christmas present and we did that,” Jaguars coach Ronnie Arrow said.
Florida’s real undoing came at the 3-point line.
The Gators finished 3 of 22 from behind the arc, including 1 of 10 in the second half. South Alabama, meanwhile, connected on 7 of 11 from there.
Florida entered the game leading the Southeastern Conference in 3-point defense, but the Jaguars made five of their first seven from long range.
“I was actually shocked that we were even in the game coming down the stretch with just our shooting numbers,” Donovan said. “I’ve never been around numbers like that before. … I don’t care who you’re playing against, it’s difficult to win when you shoot the ball like that.”
Alex Tyus led Florida with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Boynton added 14 points, and Vernon Macklin finished with 13 points and seven boards.
But Florida’s backcourt, Boynton and Walker, struggled all game. Boynton was 3 of 10 from the field. Walker was 3 of 11, including 0 for 6 from behind the arc.
Donovan told his players to stop shooting 3s at one point, and the Gators chipped into the lead with inside play from Tyus and Macklin.
The Gators pulled ahead 66-63 with 1:17 remaining. But Williams hit two free throws, Parsons missed the runner and then Hersey hit the biggest basket of his career.
“I just can’t hold back and I can’t let up,” Hersey said. “I did my job tonight and gave my team big minutes.”
Florida could have used a little more help, since center Kenny Kadji (back), forward Erik Murphy (shoulder), Macklin (gluteus) and Parsons (leg) have been slowed by injuries. Shipman joined the list when he injured his right knee in the first half.
Depth, defense and difficulty from 3-point range proved to be Florida’s downfall.
“It wasn’t the last play that lost us the game,” Parsons said. “It was just the whole mindset that we had. Coach has been talking about everyone delivering. I know I did not deliver at all. I did not step up. I didn’t hit any shots, and for us to get to where we want to be, everybody’s got to start stepping up and playing better. We’ve got a huge mountain to climb.”