ATLANTA — Florida's first-round SEC tournament game against Alabama on Thursday night had all the makings of the most embarrassing loss of the season for the Gators, highlighted by a 28-point first-half deficit.
It turned into a comeback effort that was too little, too late.
Florida's reign as the three-time SEC tournament champion came to a crashing halt with an 80-69 loss to Alabama (17-15) at the Georgia Dome.
After the game, Florida freshman Chandler Parsons said the Gators "didn't come ready to play," a comment that upset Florida coach Billy Donovan.
"Obviously for Chandler to say that the team wasn't ready to play, I've got to take responsibility for that," Donovan said. "It's disappointing to hear, but I don't know (if) going into an SEC tournament as a young kid, as a freshman, one, if he knows what he's talking about, and two, if that's what he really felt. I don't know how you can't yourself be excited."
Poor perimeter shooting and abysmal defense cost the Gators (21-11) the game, and ended nearly a decade of consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Florida had won 18 consecutive postseason games (nine in SEC tournaments), the longest stretch since John Wooden's UCLA teams in the 1970s. The Gators had also been to nine straight NCAA Tournaments.
With the loss went any last hopes Florida had of gaining an NCAA Tournament bid. The Gators have lost four straight and eight of their past 11.
"I'm real disappointed," said sophomore center Marreese Speights, who had 15 points and seven rebounds but played just 20 minutes. "We came out flat. We didn't play defense, and Alabama made us pay for it."
Florida trailed 46-23 at the half, having shot 29 percent from the field (9-for-31) and 30.8 percent from 3-point range. The Gators shot 36 percent from the field in the game, 26.9 percent from 3-point range.
In the second half, Florida was aided by a stretch of Alabama missed free throws (0-for-5 to open second half), some key 3-pointers from Parsons and a key stretch from Speights, which helped chip away at the lead. Florida got as close as 57-51 when Speights hit one of two free throws with 9:02 left.
But down the stretch, as in the first half, Florida struggled from the field and Alabama took advantage.
"We had to take the attitude of stop trying to protect the lead and play to win," said Alabama forward Richard Hendrix, who had 22 points and eight rebounds. "We needed to close the game out."
Earlier in the week, Donovan said making the NCAA Tournament wasn't as much of a concern for him as making sure his young team gained experience to benefit it next season.
After the game, Donovan said he still hasn't seen the drive and determination he needs from this current group of Gators.
"It's hard for me to be excited going forward because I don't see things getting fixed, you know?" Donovan said. "We're (32) games into the season & what you want to see is a group of guys really understand what it takes to win. It's in front of our guys, what it takes to win, and like I said, for whatever reason, I haven't brought it out in them."