GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Johnny Jones received a wet welcome in the visiting locker room at the O’Connell Center. It was a celebration in the making.
Texas Southern previously stunned No. 20 Florida 69-54 on Monday night behind PJ Henry’s 16 points and Joirdon Karl Nicholas’ perfect shooting performance.
Texas Southern (1-7) became the first Southwestern Athletic Conference team to beat a ranked Southeastern Conference program in the Associated Press poll era dating back to 1936, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. SEC ranked teams had been 51-0 against SWAC opponents.
“We were thoroughly outplayed, coached away, played out,” said Florida coach Mike White.
Jones got all the accolades. The former LSU coach who brought Texas Southern to the NCAA tournament last season was doused as he stepped into the locker room to celebrate with his team. His shirt and pants were still soaking wet during post-match interviews.
“Water bottles, anything we could throw at him,” Nicholas said.
Texas Southern had lost to ranked opponents six times in a row. The program’s final win against a Top 25 team came against then-No. 18 Oregon on November 26, 2018.
The Tigers were 23.5 point underdogs in Gainesville. That was no surprise, as they had a 27-point loss at Louisiana Tech and caught a Florida team trying to recover from its first setback of the season.
But the Gators (6-2), who were in 14th place a week ago, had no answer for Texas Southern’s talent, tenacity and athleticism.
“We’ve done a terrible job in every way,” said Florida center Colin Castleton. “Rebounding, backdoor cuts, loose balls. Everything we did badly, the coaches told us to focus on.”
The Tigers continued to beat the Florida press despite 22 turnovers and got open looks everywhere. They made the most of them, shooting 54.4% from the field and 45.5% from the 3-point range. They also surpassed Florida 46-23, beating the Gators 42-26 in the paint.
“It’s huge for the program and our school at the end of the day because we know how hard it is,” Jones said. “When you have setbacks like us, you have the chance to shatter or come together. These guys have done a great job staying on track and coming together.”
It was the Gators’ first loss in 27 games against SWAC teams.
Nicholas finished with 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting. John Walker provided 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Tigers, who opened the season with seven straight defeats on a cross-country road trip that included stops in Oregon, Washington and North Carolina State.
It was a devastating loss for White, who renewed his roster with four defensive transfers and had his best start in seven seasons. The Gators ended that with a loss to Oklahoma last Wednesday.
Florida struggled all night, shooting 38.2% from the field and hitting 5 out of 24 from a 3-point range.
Brandon McKissic led the Gators by 15 points.
“We need to rediscover our roots,” said McKissic. “We have let the attack dictate. We have to let the defense dictate again. We have to become ourselves again.”
The Tigers were selected to win the SWAC and return to the NCAA tournament. But no one expected this result, especially since they have played so many consecutive road races.
Meanwhile, this is a new low for Florida for White, who got a contract extension in the spring. Having made each of the four NCAA tournaments, the Gators have high hopes for this rebuilt team.
But this outing will certainly dampen those, and will almost certainly send them out of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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