GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Johnny Jones got a wet welcome in the visiting locker room at the O’Connell Center. It was a celebration decades in the making.
Previously winless Texas Southern 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 to 1936, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Ranked SEC teams had been 51-0 against SWAC opponents.
“We were thoroughly outplayed, outcoached, out-everything,” Florida coach Mike White said.
Jones got all the accolades. The former LSU coach who took 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 postgame interviews.
“Water bottles, everything we could throw at him,” Nicholas said.
Texas Southern had lost six straight against ranked opponents. The program’s last win against a Top 25 team came against then-No. 18 Oregon on Nov. 26, 2018.
The Tigers were 23 1/2-point underdogs in Gainesville. That was no surprise given they were coming off a 27-point loss at Louisiana Tech and catching a Florida team trying to rebound from its first setback of the season.
But the Gators (6-2), who had been ranked as high as 14th a week ago, had no answer for Texas Southern’s talent, tenacity and athleticism.
“We just did a terrible job in every aspect,” Florida big man Colin Castleton said. “Rebounding, backdoor cuts, loose balls. Everything we did bad the coaches told us to focus on.”
The Tigers continuously beat Florida’s press despite 22 turnovers and got open looks everywhere. They made most of the them, shooting 54.4% from the field and 45.5% from 3-point range. They also outrebounded Florida 46-23 and outscored 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 difficult it is,” Jones said. “When you have setbacks like we’ve had, you have an opportunity to either splinter or come together. These guys have done a tremendous job of staying the course and coming together.”
It was the Gators’ first loss in 27 games against teams from the SWAC.
Nicholas finished with 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting. John Walker chipped in 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Tigers, who opened the season with seven straight losses during a cross-country road trip that included stops at Oregon, Washington and North Carolina State
It was a damning loss for White, who revamped his roster with four defensive-minded transfers and was off to his best start in seven seasons. The Gators ended that with a loss at Oklahoma last Wednesday.
Florida struggled all night, shooting 38.2% from the field and hitting 5 of 24 from 3-point range.
Brandon McKissic led the Gators with 15 points.
“We got to find our roots again,” McKissic said. “We’ve been letting offense dictate. We’ve got to get back to letting defense dictate. We’ve got to get back to being us.”
Texas Southern: The Tigers were picked to win the SWAC and return to the NCAA Tournament. But no one expected this outcome, especially since they have played so many consecutive road games.
Florida: This is a new low for White, who got a contract extension in the spring. The Gators have made each of the four NCAA Tournaments and have high hopes for this rebuilt team. But this outing will temper those for sure.
Florida likely will drop out of the AP Top 25 poll after a humbling home loss.
Florida center Jason Jitoboh sat out the game because of a coach’s decision.
Texas Southern: Plays at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Dec. 14.
Florida: Returns to its home court Wednesday night against North Florida.