Perhaps it was the impending finale to his collegiate career, or perhaps it was simply an attempt to lift the Gators out of dire straits.
Either way, KeVaughn Allen reminded the Florida faithful, and his head coach, of what he can do when he’s feeling it.
Allen provided 31 points Tuesday night — 17 coming in the second half — as the Gators turned a 13-point deficit at halftime into a nine-point win over visiting Texas A&M.
Although Allen has turned in double-digit scoring performances in UF’s previous eight games — the longest streak in his Florida career — Gators coach Mike White has noticed a recent change — or reversion — in the senior shooting guard just within the past week.
“Two games in a row where he’s been aggressive and confident. ‘Give me the ball,’ playing with all he’s got. Everyone in this room knows he’s capable of doing that,” White said. “All these guys, they go through ups and downs. And when you’ve had as much early success as he’s had, he’s always kind of been under the microscope. Nice seeing him have fun out there, making big plays and feeling good about himself and having fun.”
It marked the first time all season a UF player has scored 20 or more points in a game, although Allen wasn’t the only one to break the mark against the Aggies. Freshman Noah Locke provided 27 points, and the Gators would finish the game having made 18 shots from beyond the arc, with 15 of them coming from UF’s sharp-shooting duo of Allen and Locke. The two set a program record for most 3-point baskets made by two players with 15 against the Aggies, in turn giving many a glimpse of the Allen of old and his successor.
But the expectations with Locke aren’t nearly as high as they are with Allen, whose last 30-point game came as a sophomore in UF’s 84-83 win over Wisconsin on March 26, 2017, in the Elite Eight.
“I just noticed that I was hitting shots early in the game. So why not shoot it? I just shot it,” Allen said. “Just playing aggressive and knowing that the team needs me to be aggressive, whether I’m hitting shots or I’m not. But I feel I need to be aggressive to help this team win.”
Call it a revelation several years in the making or not, but the message hasn’t changed when it comes to coaching Allen: seize opportunities rather than idle along. Embracing the message, however, has been a process.
“That’s something new to me,” Allen admitted. “I feel like I’m just taking a step as a person. Not only as a basketball player, but I feel like I’m just taking the extra step in life.”
After a disappointing junior campaign, Allen’s game more closely resembles that of his underclassmen years, where he seemingly shot the ball confidently and efficiently.
And defensively, Allen has taken his game to another level this season as his 1.6 steals per game ranks fifth in the SEC. His presence on both ends of the court has made him a must-play, and his noticeable absence late in Florida’s 78-67 loss to Tennessee on Jan. 12 left many bewildered and in need of an explanation.
As Allen tells it, the loss to Tennessee less than two weeks prior may explain the apparent change in his on-court demeanor.
“Since then, I feel like I’ve gotten better, and you just don’t get better overnight,” Allen said. “I think that extra step is trying to get better and try and work with the team.”
Now, sitting at .500 in the SEC with a onerous conference slate remaining, the Gators need Allen to keep taking steps — and shots.
“However he learns, it’s nice that he’s taken it on himself, put us on his shoulders a little bit,” White said of Allen. “He’s grown, he’s a senior now. He’s been through a lot.”
What: SEC/Big 12 Challenge
Who: Florida vs. TCU
When: Noon Saturday
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850