Florida rallies to stun top seed LSU, advances to SEC Tournament semifinals

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Florida senior guard KeVaughn Allen drives against LSU guard Skylar Mays in the first half Friday at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn. [Mark Humphrey/Associated Press]

By Teresa M. Walker, AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Florida Gators finally figured out how to avoid overtime against LSU.

Andrew Nembhard hit a 3-pointer with a second left, and Florida rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half to upset the ninth-ranked Tigers 76-73 Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

Freshman Keyontae Johnson had the ball when he saw LSU forward Naz Reid sliding into position to take a charge and passed to Nembhard, who was open at the top of the key.

“I just had confidence in him,” Johnson said. “I’m glad he hit it.”

The SEC regular-season champs had one last chance as Will Reese threw the ball deep to Reid, who couldn’t catch it while defended by a pair of Gators before the buzzer. That avoided the third overtime this season between these teams.

“We did just enough to beat a very good team,” Florida coach Mike White said.

Eighth-seeded Florida (19-14) now will play No. 22 Auburn (24-9) in the semifinals Saturday after a thrilling comeback that firmed up the Gators’ chances for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.

LSU (26-6) was a 3½-point favorite and had won five straight without coach Will Wade, who remains suspended indefinitely despite asking Thursday to rejoin the Tigers for the postseason. LSU quickly squashed that idea with a statement noting Wade will remain suspended until he speaks to school officials about the reports of an FBI wiretap that led to his suspension March 8, noting Wade has yet to “deny any wrongdoing to us or publicly.”

The Tigers did have freshman Javonte Smart back after LSU announced a couple hours before tipoff Friday that the guard has fully cooperated in a “joint inquiry” with the school and the NCAA.

They accepted their trophy as the league’s regular-season champs from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey before tipoff in a subdued ceremony. Then LSU led 35-25 at halftime and as much as 42-29 with 16:52 left.

Florida clawed back into the game by hitting eight straight shots and 10 of 11. Jalen Hudson made a pair of free throws with 6:05 left to give Florida its first lead of the game at 58-57, setting up a frantic finish. LSU led 63-60 when Johnson hit a 3-pointer, officials called a foul on LSU and the LSU bench was assessed a technical also a technical for arguing. KeVaughn Allen hit a pair of two free throws, and Kevarrius Hayes hit one for a six-point play.

LSU interim coach Tony Benford said he thought the 3 came after an official blew the whistle for the other foul and was confused about why the shot counted.

“Unfortunately, I probably shouldn’t have gotten the T, looking back on it,” Benford said.

Reid hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to tie it at 70 and again at 73 with 13.2 seconds left. Then Johnson found Nembhard for the winning 3. White credited the two freshmen with good decisions.

“Andrew has worked hard on his jumper,” White said.

Nembhard had no time to do more than catch and shoot.

“I’m happy it went down for sure,” Nembhard said.

Nembhard led five Gators in double figures with 20 points. Johnson finished with 16, Hudson had 13, Allen scored 12 and Hayes had 11.

Reid led LSU with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Smart finished with 13 points off the bench.

SMART’S SITUATION

The freshman guard was held out of LSU’s win over Vanderbilt to close the regular season and didn’t learn until about 9:45 a.m. Friday that he could play again. Asked if he had any knowledge of the offer Wade reportedly discussed on the FBI wiretap, Smart said no.

“I have nothing to do with that,” Smart said.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators’ 3-point shooting woes, which contributed to their three-game skid to end the regular season, surfaced again. They went 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) in the first half outside the arc, a number made worse considering they shot more from the outside than inside the arc. But the Gators kept shooting 3s and went 6 of 13 in the second half.

LSU: The Tigers will have a complaint about the discrepancy in foul calls with 24 on LSU compared to 10 for the Gators. The Tigers didn’t even go to the free throw line in the first half despite having a 26-10 scoring edge in the paint. They wound up shooting 7 of 11 at the line while Florida was 16 of 26.

“I can’t get into that,” Benford said. “We’re not going to get any calls. I heard guys (say) when there’s an interim coach, you’re not getting any calls.”

REMEMBERING SIMS

At halftime, the SEC honored the late LSU forward Wayde Sims, who was shot to death last September.

Next up: The Gators (19-14) advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. against No. 22 Auburn (24-9) winner at 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. LSU (26-6) will find out Sunday where it is seeded in the NCAA Tournament.

FLORIDA 76, No. 9 LSU 73
FLORIDA (19-14)

Johnson 7-11 0-5 16, Hayes 5-7 1-2 11, Hudson 3-9 5-6 13, Nembhard 7-14 3-4 20, Allen 3-8 5-5 12, Bassett 0-1 2-4 2, Stokes 0-0 0-0 0, Locke 0-4 0-0 0, Okauru 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-56 16-26 76.

LSU (26-6)

Reid 11-20 1-2 26, Bigby-Williams 4-9 0-2 8, Waters 2-6 4-4 9, Taylor 3-4 0-1 7, Mays 3-13 0-0 6, Days 0-2 0-0 0, Williams 2-2 0-0 4, Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Smart 5-7 2-2 13. Totals 30-63 7-11 73.

Halftime_LSU 35-25. 3-Point Goals_Florida 8-28 (Nembhard 3-7, Johnson 2-5, Hudson 2-7, Allen 1-5, Locke 0-4), LSU 6-19 (Reid 3-4, Smart 1-2, Taylor 1-2, Waters 1-3, Days 0-2, Mays 0-6). Fouled Out_Bigby-Williams. Rebounds_Florida 31 (Johnson 10), LSU 40 (Reid 14). Assists_Florida 14 (Nembhard 6), LSU 13 (Waters 7). Total Fouls_Florida 10, LSU 24. Technicals_LSU coach Tony Benford.

26 COMMENTS

  1. What a game!!!! What a game!!! I was ready to shut it off at halftime but stuck with it. I think Mike White called a great game and everyone, and I mean everyone who was on the floor for us, played their hearts out. Great hustle, great defense, and made shots when we needed them in the second half. I am proud of this team for their effort today and it made me forget the ups and downs of this season. Let’s get another win tomorrow and then on to the Big Dance…GO GATORS!!!

    • Team’s been playing the same all year actually. The results have been up and down because they don’t have the horses this year. All you need to do is look at their defensive success (for a small team mind you) to know that the effort has always been there. Defense derives from effort, communication (which goes back to effort), and technique/talent. Offense is more heavily weighted toward talent. — I think we have every reason to be proud of this team this year. They have laid it all on the line with what they’ve got. I disagree with the criticism they have taken for lack of heart, mental toughness, and effort. They have had to fight incredibly hard for everything they’ve gotten – with a very short bench to boot, which left them completely gassed at the end of a lot of street fights (which is the only way their talent and depth allowed them to play it). — I’m sure Jalen Hudson wishes he got it going earlier in the year, as we all do, but that happens sometimes, especially when you’re a jack of all trades, master of none type of player. Anyway, Go Gators. Would love to see you get a game in the tourney due to the sheer resolve you showed this year.

  2. What a spectacular and gutty finish. Shout out to Coach Mike White in trusting Hayes to be the man in that beautifully designed play near the end of the game. Crucial bucket. And Allen’s big take-away of that offensive board. And, of course, Nembhard’s ice cold 3!

        • Nah. They don’t. I don’t know why the commentators were reviewing when the whistle blew. This isn’t football. It’s not relevant. The rule states whether the basket counts in the situation where a non-shooting offensive player is fouled depends on whether the shot had been released at the time the foul OCCURS, not when the foul is called.

  3. So hard to figure. They can be so smart, so tough, so athletic. Then they can be dull, weak, and plodding. This game, fighting from behind, pulling out the win at the end, is exactly the type of thing that Gator teams of the past have done during their great runs of the past. The catch a break with their next opponent, and hopefully they can make whichever loud, irritating sweaty mess of a coach they face cry and whine like a baby.

  4. And why could he hit that 3? Cause we had success in the paint and KJ’s final drive saw 4 players converging on him. As a result, Nembhard was wide open. Ice indeed! Agree–kudos to CMW and the effort, and not hanging their heads. LSU has got to be sick of da Gators!

    • Good analysis. No passing it around the perimeter just hoping that the D would trip over themselves. They actually looked at the zone, found the weakness, penetrated, and threw it back out. Could not be more excited about the three freshmen!

  5. Was playing golf while the game was on so I followed it on my phone. First half was nothing special but we brought it in the second and made shots when we needed. This was a whole team effort and great game by Johnson and Nembhard with the clutch shot at the end. We knew we could beat them if we played our game and the second half team is how we need to bring it every game. Lets not have a let down now that we are in the tournament and see if we can reach our potential when it matters most. Go Gators!

    • I said at one time that I had as good a chance of getting a franchise to sell ice water in hell as the Gators did of getting to the tournament. I guess I’ll be hiring some employees in a week or so. This Gator team is the most Jekyll & Hyde of any team I have ever watched, on any level. Simply amazing.

  6. Great to see KJ show out again. Averaging 18 and 11 in his first two SEC Tournament games is huge. Nembhard playing extremely well, too. Locke must be struggling with his injury. Can’t hit anything, and now he’s curling off screens and taking off-balance shots off one foot falling away that have no chance. Hope he can work his way through it. And how about Hayes hitting those two jumpers?!. Go Gators!