Quiet please — that’s what coach Mike White wants.
At least that’s how White made it sound after his Florida Gators were upset by Clemson 71-69 on Saturday night in the annual Orange Bowl Classic at BB&T Center.
The Gators (6-4) are ranked 22nd in the nation but seem likely headed out of the Top 25 poll after their fourth loss in five games. That stretch includes losses to Duke, Florida State — and perhaps most embarrassing — to Loyola-Chicago.
Maybe this latest loss will do what White appears to want — silence the hype.
“Every loss hurts,” White said, “especially when these guys [his players] have gotten so much noise about how good they are. It’s been a challenge to find that hunger you’re looking for.
“A lot of the mistakes we made today are pointed out every day. That’s discouraging. We’ve got to take some steps.”
Gators wing Jalen Hudson seemed to take some steps, scoring a game-high 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting, including 4 of 8 on three-pointers.
Florida guards Chris Chiozza (14 points) and KeVaughan Allen (12) also contributed double-figure scoring. Florida committed just 11 turnovers, four fewer than Clemson.
But there were also some defensive breakdowns that allowed the Gators to squander a 12-point lead in the final 17 minutes.
Clemson shot 51.1 percent from the floor and also took 30 free throws — 13 more than Florida.
“We lack the ability to get a stop when we need one,” White said.
Clemson scored the game-winning basket on a dunk by Elijah Thomas with 37 seconds left. Marcquise Reed provided the full-court pass that freed up Thomas.
“We were desperate to get [a rebound and] we didn’t sprint back,” Hudson said. “We were all slow. [Thomas] leaked out before anyone had secured the rebound, which was kind of a risky play for him. But it ended up going in his favor.”
With nine seconds left and Clemson leading 69-68, Allen missed a three-point try from the right elbow.
“I was open,” Allen said. “Chris did a good job of finding me. I felt confident shooting; it felt good.”
Unfortunately for the Gators, Allen missed, and Thomas grabbed the rebound. Two free throws by Reed sealed Clemson’s win.
After Thomas made his first free throw, the officials corrected their mistake. They took that one point off the board, sending Reed to line. Reed — after the officials put the wrong player on the line — made both free throws to seal the victory.
White said the lapse in coverage on Thomas’ dunk was particularly glaring.
“We didn’t do our jobs,” White said. “We didn’t show the discipline we needed to show there. Someone didn’t get back.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Clemson (9-1), which was predicted to finish 11th in the ACC, is off to its best 10-game start since 2008-09.
▪ Florida plays James Madison on Wednesday and Incarnate Word on Friday before opening SEC play Dec. 30 against visiting Vanderbilt.
▪ The game, played at the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers, was delayed more than once because of moisture on the court, as well as a lighting problem.
▪ This was the first time Clemson and Florida faced each other in 50 years.
▪ Florida was without two players: starting center John Egbunu and freshman forward Isaiah Stokes. Both have knee injuries, and both are expected to miss at least one more month.