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Florida falters in first true road test, loses to Oklahoma

The 14th-ranked Gators rally late but drop their first game of the season.
Florida guard Brandon McKissic tries to drive past Oklahoma forward Jalen Hill on Wednesday.
Florida guard Brandon McKissic tries to drive past Oklahoma forward Jalen Hill on Wednesday. [ KYLE PHILLIPS | AP ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021
Updated Dec. 2, 2021

NORMAN, Okla. — As Oklahoma football fans tried to recover from Lincoln Riley’s sudden decision to leave for USC earlier in the week, the basketball team stepped in and gave them something to cheer about.

Tanner Groves scored 20 to lead Oklahoma to a 74-67 win over No. 14 Florida on Wednesday.

Jalen Hill scored a career-high 18, and Umoja Gibson added 15 for the Sooners (7-1), who earned their biggest win under new coach Porter Moser. He picked up his 300th career victory after previous stops at Arkansas-Little Rock, Illinois State and Loyola Chicago.

It was much larger than a typical crowd for a nonconference game, and it was energetic and engaged from the beginning — something Moser has pushed for since he arrived.

“I think it was just for us, for our guys, for the fans, for the basketball fans here, for the Sooners,” Moser said. “To get the people in this arena — come on in. This thing could be electric.”

Phlandrous Fleming scored 17, and Colin Castleton, who was in foul trouble in the first half, added 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for Florida (6-1). The Gators, playing their first game outside the Sunshine State, shot 42 percent and made just 4 of 24 3-pointers. They finished with seven assists and 16 turnovers.

“I think that OU was just better than us,” Florida coach Mike White said. “And I think they executed better. They were a little bit more sound defensively. They swarm to the ball. We had we had some careless turnovers. The crowd definitely was a factor, of course. Credit the environment here, but I’d like to give more credit to their staff and players. I thought they were good.”

The Sooners led 9-0 before the Gators scored on a free throw nearly four minutes into the game. UF committed five turnovers before making a shot.

“You know, the first five minutes, I thought our guys believed,” Moser said. “They were ready defensively. It set the tone. What great teams do is they punch back, which Florida did. But it seemed like every time, we bounced back. And the crowd helped us bounce back. I think they got behind every good play. They did not relax.”

Florida chipped away and took the lead for the first time on three free throws by Tyree Appleby just over a minute before the break. OU recovered and led 37-36 at halftime.

UF trailed by 10 late but rallied with an 8-0 run, a 3-pointer by Appleby cutting the deficit to 69-67 with about 2 minutes left. But Hill scored, was fouled and made the free throw to push the Sooners’ lead back to five.

Moser said he believes the win will help players buy into his plan even more.

“I just think it keeps solidifying us about getting better, that our hard work is — things are adding up,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators already have solid wins over Florida State and Ohio State this season - the same Ohio State team that just beat No. 1 Duke on Tuesday. This loss isn’t a resume killer.

Oklahoma: It’s an impressive win for an Oklahoma team that was pieced together with a new coach, a few holdovers, transfer portal additions and talented freshmen. The Sooners were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12, but it appears they might be better than that.

AN OLD FRIEND, FOR BOTH OU AND UF

Oklahoma honored Lon Kruger, the school’s previous basketball coach who retired at the end of last season. Kruger led the Sooners for 10 seasons and went 195-128 (.604). He led Florida to the Final Four in 1994 and Oklahoma to the Final Four in 2016.

SOONERS CELEBRATE QB

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams got a standing ovation after he was shown on the big screen. Earlier in the week, backup quarterback Spencer Rattler said he would enter the transfer portal and 2023 five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson decommitted from the Sooners.

QUOTABLE

Moser, on Hill’s career night: “He’s just playing aggressive and confident. And that’s the key with him is aggressive and confident. He looked like he was embracing the moment down the stretch, not afraid of it and not running from it, like deferring to somebody else. You know, he wasn’t in the defer mode. He wanted to be a main part of it, and he was.”

UP NEXT

Florida hosts Texas Southern on Dec. 6.

Oklahoma hosts Butler on Dec. 7.

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By CLIFF BRUNT

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