The Florida men’s basketball team was back in action Friday against the No. 13 Baylor Bears. The Gators had an early piece of hardware on the line, playing in the NIT Tip-Off Championship at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
However, Florida was without center Micah Handlogten, who was out due to an ankle injury suffered in the win Wednesday against Pitt. In a game that saw Florida trailing most of it, the Bears came out with the win, 95-91.
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) November 25, 2023
Florida started off the game hot, scoring on their first three possessions to take a 7-0 lead. Baylor came back quickly to take the lead, going on a 27-10 tear, leading by as much as 11 in the game. Florida hung around, led by senior transfer Zyon Pullin in the first half. Pullin had 11 first-half points, bringing the Gators back to tie things up 41-41 heading into half number two.
The second half was more of the same for Florida. Baylor shot a whopping 51.7 percent from the floor and 56 percent from three. The Bears held on firmly to their lead, with Florida never leading past the 14:04 mark in the second half. The Gators still had their chances in this one, cutting the lead multiple times down to one or two possessions.
Riley Kugel was phenomenal for Florida, leading all scorers with 25 points to go along with nine boards. With the game winding down, Baylor senior Rayj Dennis iced things with a fadeaway jumper to put Florida away for good. Dennis led the way for the Bears with 24 points, scoring 22 of those in the second half.
Florida shot 44.9 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from three. Kugel shot the ball well, shooting 50 percent from the floor (10-20) and 4-6 from three. Florida had four players in double figures. Tyrese Samuel had 18, Walter Clayton Jr. had 11 and Pullin had 17.
The Gators won the rebounding battle 38-33 on the back of nine rebounds from Kugel, six from Samuel and six from Clayton Jr. As a team Florida forced 14 turnovers, stealing the ball nine times to go along with six blocks.
Baylor shot the ball at an elite level all game. The Bears put the ball in the bucket at a 51.7 percent clip, shooting lights out from three as well (56 percent). Senior Jalen Bridges shot 5-7 from downtown, scoring 23 points to go along with five assists for the game.
Baylor also had four players score in double figures, led by Dennis with 24. Aside from Dennis and Bridges, freshman Ja’Kobe Walter had 11 and sophomore Langston Love had 16 points off the bench. Leading rebounders for the Bears were Walter with five 5 and Ojianwuna with five as well. Baylor forced 12 Gator turnovers, stealing the ball six times to go along with four blocks.
Florida (4-2), with wins against Florida State and Pitt combined with close losses against Virginia and Baylor, look to be in prime contention to be ranked in the top-25 soon. Florida plays in the ACC/SEC Challenge against Wake Forest on Wednesday. The Demon Deacons are 3-3 on the season, coming off a win against Charleston Southern.
Tip-off is set for 7:15 on Wednesday on ESPNU, 981.-FM/AM850 WRUF.