Georgia basketball came five points shy of shocking Florida in a 40-minute Thursday night battle.

The Bulldogs (17-16, 6-12 SEC) threatened the Gators’ (22-10, 11-7) SEC Tournament elimination until the final couple seconds of an 85-80 loss at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

UGA is eliminated from the tournament and will await a possible NIT bid.

“I’m not going to sit here and lobby,” coach Mike White said. “I don’t know who deserves to be in the NIT.

“It’s weird to sit there in the locker room postgame and not know if this is the last time you’re going to address your team.”

Georgia, which trailed for the final five minutes, had a golden opportunity to shock Florida in the final minute. Illinois transfer RJ Melendez stole an inbound pass as Georgia trailed 79-76 with 20 seconds.

Melendez got the steal at the 3-point line and elected to charge the paint. The junior attempted to maneuver through two Florida defenders for a layup, but missed the shot.

The Gators collected the rebound and completed the rest of their inbound passes, each setting up free throws to seal the win.

Silas Demary Jr. and Noah Thomasson co-led UGA with 14 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists each. Demary Jr. added 2 steals and a block defensively.

Georgia’s fight was on display through a physical contest with two foul-outs and 54 total fouls. UGA pulled back within a single possession of Florida’s lead nine times in the second half.

“Frustrating to lose, I’m as competitive as anybody,” White said. “We’ve just got to stay the course with this program, and get to the point where you’re winning a few more of those close ones, and we could be sitting talking a different type of postseason.”

The Bulldogs built on their slim 37-34 halftime advantage to open the second half, leading by as much as seven points before Florida started prying the lead away.

Thomasson hit a 3-pointer at the 16:29 mark to take a 46-39 lead before the Gators got hungry. Florida jumped on a 7-0 run to tie the game for the first time since the 7:26 mark of the first half.

The Gators regained a 49-48 lead at the 13:10 mark and never lost it.

Florida’s towering lineup proved too much for Georgia’s bigs. The Gators out-rebounded the Bulldogs 52-36 and won the paint points battle 44-38.

Georgia took its first half lead with an explosive scoring run ranging from the 9:43 mark to 3:57. The Bulldogs shot 5 of 9 from the floor and sank six free throws, outscoring Florida 18-4 during the stretch.

Melendez sparked the run with a 3-pointer, quickly followed by another from RJ Sunahara. Thomasson and Blue Cain offered free throws to pull even with Florida at 21-21.

UGA took its first lead of the game at the 5:26 mark when Jalen Deloach sank a hook shot. The Bulldogs hit another three free throws and a layup after, snagging a 30-24 advantage at the end of the run.

Georgia finished the half shooting 5 of 12 from 3-point range. Melendez led the team at the break with 11 points, 3 rebounds and a steal.

White, who coached Florida for seven seasons, is now 0-5 against his old team since coming to Athens. Georgia’s 102-98 loss to the Gators on Jan. 27 started a six-game losing streak that derailed the team’s hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Bulldogs will not head back to Athens completely empty-handed. Their 64-59 win over lowly Missouri on Wednesday night was the program’s first SEC Tournament win since 2020.

Friday’s SEC tournament schedule:

1 p.m. No. 9 seed Mississippi State vs. No. 1 seed Tennessee

3:30 p.m. No. 5 seed South Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Auburn

7 p.m. No. 7 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 2 seed Kentucky

9:30 p.m. No. 6 seed Florida vs. No. 3 seed Alabama

Georgia basketball vs. Florida Box Score (StatBroadcast/Dawgnation)