PISCATAWAY, N.J. — On the surface, it appeared No. 10 Florida simply didn't finish off Rutgers.
The Gators blew a seven-point lead in the final 3 minutes of regulation and a three-point lead with less than 20 seconds to go in the first overtime before falling to Rutgers 85-83 in double overtime on Thursday.
Florida coach Billy Donovan wasn't interested in letting the late collapses serve as the reason the Gators' five-game losing streak came to an end against one of the lesser teams in the Big East Conference.
Donovan said Florida (10-3) stopped playing long before that. They opened the game with a 14-5 spurt and then stopped moving the ball and looking for each other.
"I don't think that we were very good on offense," Donovan said, adding that the performance came just a week after his team played an outstanding game against Florida State. "Their kids played the right way and I don't think that our guys played the right way."
While not a big fan of learning from a loss, Donovan felt this game could help his team down the road.
"Our team needs to go through this to reach our full potential, as difficult as that may be," he said. "It's bigger for me than just this game, it's about us getting better."
Rutgers (8-5) was the team that really improved Thursday after struggling much of the season.
Freshman Eli Carter led the way with a career-high 31 points, hitting the go-ahead basket in the second overtime. He also nailed a late 3-pointer in the first overtime to put the Scarlet Knights in position for their biggest win since knocking off No. 9 Villanova at home last season.
Erving Walker had a chance to tie the game for the Gators in the final seconds, but his off-balance attempt from the foul line hit off the rim.
Scarlet Knights fans stormed the court to celebrate in a game billed as the return of former Rutgers star and current Gator Mike Rosario to Piscataway.
"When you're younger and you dream of playing college basketball and you see everybody storm the floor, and for me to be in it was definitely a blessing," said Rutgers freshman Jerome Seagears, who added 13 points. "The floor was shaking it was so crazy. I thought Godzilla was coming through. They put their pants on just like we put our pants on, so in that case they can be beat. And tonight we did that as a team. This is the biggest win of my life.
Dane Miller added 16 points and Myles Mack had 14 for Rutgers, which won its fourth straight game.
Kenny Boynton matched his season high with 26 points for Florida. Bradley Beal added 15, and Erik Murphy had 14 points and eight rebounds for Florida, which was playing its first game at the loud and intimidating Rutgers Athletic Center.
Carter, whose previous high was 21 points, put the Scarlet Knights ahead for good at 80-78 with a shot in the lane. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
After Beal missed a drive on the left side and Boynton missed a 3-point attempt, Carter scored inside again for an 82-78 edge.
Beal cut the Gators' deficit to a point on a 3-pointer with 1:18 to go, but Mack came right back with a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left for an 85-81 lead.
A floater by Walker with 44.8 seconds left cut the margin to a basket and Florida got a final shot when Rutgers was called for a shot clock violation with 8.7 seconds left.
Rutgers knocked the ball out of bounds in the backcourt with 4.3 seconds left and Walker could not connect after taking the inbound pass and driving to the foul line for his final shot.
Rutgers forced the first overtime by rallying from a 7-point deficit in the final 2:48 of regulation and the came from three points down in the first overtime with Carter tying the game at 76 with a 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play.
Florida turned the ball over in the waning seconds and Mack's 40-footer at the buzzer wasn't close.
The Scarlet Knights trailed 64-57 late in regulation before scoring the final seven points, aided by two Gators turnovers. Mack started the comeback with a 3-pointer, Carter scored in the lane and Miller tied the game with 45.7 seconds to go with a layup.
After Walker's drive down the lane with about 15 seconds left hit nothing, the Scarlet Knights blew a chance to win. Mack seemed to lose track of time and his off-balance shot never had a chance.
"Obviously you never like losing, but we've had some games this year that we've been extremely explosive on offense and we've had a couple games that we haven't been," Donovan said. "I just don't think that on the offensive end we maximized each other."