From an intermission tie to a second-half rout, Alabama saw its NCAA tournament hopes fade a little further Tuesday night.
Florida took control by force in a 61-52 win by scoring the first 16 points of a dizzying second half.
Most of the less-than-capacity holiday crowd had left before the Crimson Tide’s second straight loss further damaged the once-promising season.
“We’re getting hit in the face with reality right now,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “How do we respond to that?”
Still without suspended starters Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, Alabama got 19 points from the two who returned after one-game absences. Andrew Steele had a team-high 11 while Trevor Releford added 8.
Neither could slow the outburst that opened the second half.
Florida needed just over five minutes to score the first 16 points and effectively end the game.
Alabama (16-9, 5-6) didn’t manage a field goal for the first 9:00 while missing its first 10 shots. That followed its best first-half shooting percentage of SEC play (58.8).
Careless passing was an issue in both halves. Alabama had a season-high 18 turnovers that Florida turned into 24 points on the other end.
Florida (20-6, 8-3) made things difficult by switching to a 2-3 zone in the second half after center Patric Young picked up two first-half fouls.
“I basically told them, if we get a stop in the zone in the first possession, stay zone,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “If we don’t we’re going to switch back to man.”
Alabama, it turns out, went five full minutes before Charles Hankerson’s two free throws ended the slide. Momentum was fleeting after that.
The Tide scored consecutive baskets just once after halftime when Grant said the mindset wasn’t right. Freshman Nick Jacobs, fresh off a 14-point night at LSU, picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench.
He played briefly in the second half before returning to the bench after seven total minutes.
“In the second half, I didn’t think (Jacobs) came out with the energy that he needs to, that he’s capable of doing,” Grant said. “So some other guys got some opportunities.”
Grant also said Jacobs was dealing with an injury suffered in a recent practice. A shot delivered to the mouth required a visit to a dentist Tuesday morning.
Releford also played at less than 100 percent most of the night. He took a knee to his upper leg early in the game and limped through the rest of the night.
Donovan said he spoke briefly with Releford after the game about responding to the one-game suspension. Steele spoke briefly about sitting out with the same punishment.
“We were prepared for Florida,” he said. “Everything that happened this past weekend, we put it behind us. We moved on from it.”
And it was a game until Young keyed the second-half explosion. He scored 12 of his game-high 19 in the first 10 minutes after halftime with an array of dunks. And for only the third time this season, Alabama was outscored in the paint, 26-22.
The game was tied at 26 after 20 minutes despite Florida’s exceptionally poor shooting. The Gators were 8-for-26 (30.8 percent) after entering as the SEC’s second-best shooting team with a 46.6 season percentage.
Making up for that meant taking advantage of every opportunity. The Gators scored half of their 26 first-half points off 11 Alabama turnovers.
The visitors also made all seven free-throw attempts while Alabama was 3-for-6.
A 9-0 Tide run changed the complexion of the first half but had little consequence in the end. The first 7 points came in a fast-paced 66-second stretch after Florida led 16-11.
It remained close, Donovan said, because of free-throw shooting. Alabama made just 12 of 24 attempts after shooting 71.4 percent this season.
From here, Alabama has the rest of the week to prepare for the same Tennessee team that beat Florida in Gainesville on Saturday. The Vols (13-12, 5-5) come to Coleman Coliseum at 12:30 Saturday afternoon.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star. Follow him @UARollTide_Star