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Gators men’s basketball look ahead to SEC Tournament

The Gators men’s basketball team travels to Nashville to participate in the 2020 SEC Tournament this weekend. Florida faces the winner of Georgia’s matchup against Ole Miss.

Florida ended its season with a heartbreaking 71-70 loss to Kentucky. They finished their season 19-12 (11-7 in the SEC) and fourth in the conference. With their loss to the Wildcats, the Gators missed out on the second seed in the SEC Tournament. This seeding would have given Florida a double-bye, but instead the Gators will play in the second round.

Against the Wildcats, senior Kerry Blackshear Jr. sprained his wrist in the waning moments of the first half. He would try and play in the second half, but ultimately sat out for the remainder of the game.

The Gators won both games against Georgia this season. Each win against the Bulldogs involved a double-digit comeback, including a 22-point comeback that was the largest in program history. On the other side, Florida split the season series against the Ole Miss Rebels this season.

If the Gators defeat their opponent in the second round, they’d face a Mississippi State team that they lost to on Jan. 28, 71-78.

Laser-focused

Coming into the tournament, questions remain about the team’s worthiness of an NCAA Tournament bid. According to freshman guard Scottie Lewis, the team’s road ahead shapes their future.

“There was high expectations preseason and we kinda didn’t meet those, so we’ve just had this constant chip on our shoulder and constant weight on our shoulder; so going into the tournament we’re looking to win. We’re gonna worry about Selection Sunday when that day comes and we’re wanting to win our second [tournament] championship this year. We know how to do it and we know what it takes and our coaching staff knows what it takes.” -Scottie Lewis

When asked about whether his team has earned an NCAA Tournament bid, coach White dismissed the question. According to him, the team is locked in on the SEC.

“I’m so locked in on this next practice. … I just don’t know. I haven’t even let myself go there. We want to win the next game. I want our guys focused on attempting to win a conference tournament championship, and to do that you have to win the first one, and to do that we have to be good today. That’s what we’ve talked about. I’ve really just left it alone.” -Mike White

Life without Blackshear

One of the largest points of emphasis for the Gators going into the SEC tournament is the availability of Kerry Blackshear Jr. The senior transfer from Virginia Tech averages 12.8 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. According to head coach Mike White, Blackshear is questionable for Thursday’s game.

Players understand the impact that Blackshear has on the floor.  According to coach White, the entire offensive gameplan changes with Blackshear on the bench.

 “The stuff we’re best at offensively is with KJ on the floor. Period. We play through him. We play through him.” -Mike White

Lewis knows this too. According to him, players are going to have to step up in a big way.

“Everyone else is going to have to step up and play at a higher level. We’ll be losing one of our best scorers and best playmakers. In general for our team, it is obviously a big loss, so guys like Andrew (Nembhard), myself, pretty much everyone, especially Keyontae (Johnson), are going to have to step up and play at a high level. We have to be able to collectively do the job that KJ would do for us.” – Scottie Lewis on playing without Blackshear.

Coverage

Tip-off of the Gators men’s basketball game in the second round of the SEC Tournament starts at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network. Radio coverage starts around tip-off on ESPN 98-1 FM 850 AM WRUF.

About Steven Walker

Steven Walker is a beat writer for ESPN Gainesville and is currently studying Journalism & Sports Media at the University of Florida.

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