Gators open SEC action in style

Allen lifts No. 25 Florida to an 81-72 win over Arkansas.


Florida sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen scored a team-high 21 points on Thursday night against Arkansas.

FILE
Published: Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 11:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 11:29 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Florida sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen was booed almost every time he touched the ball Thursday.

Facts

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Who: Ole Miss vs. No. 25 Florida

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 3

Where: Exactech Arena at Stephen C. O'Connell Center

TV: ESPNU

Radio: 103.7-FM

Every made shot, rebound in traffic and steal in transition was a reminder to Arkansas fans of what could have been had the 6-foot-2 North Little Rock, Ark., native chose the home-state Razorbacks instead of the Gators.

Allen made his return to the Natural State a game he will remember for some time, scoring a team-high 21 points to lift No. 25 Florida to an 81-72 win over Arkansas before 16,035 at Bud Walton Arena.

Junior forward Devin Robinson added 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Gators (10-3, 1-0 SEC), who won their fifth straight SEC opener, while senior point guard Kasey Hill had 10 points and six assists.

Junior center John Egbunu returned from a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury and made an impact inside with five points and 11 rebounds. Florida stayed even with Arkansas on the boards, 37-37, and had 18 second-chance points off 16 offensive rebounds.

The Gators built a 44-35 halftime lead and led by as many as 16 points with 3:12 left in the second half, prompting fans to head for the exits early.

“To win in the fashion that we did, I hope will allow us to learn and to take that next step,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Because we've had three games, our three losses, where we weren't as good in the second half.”

Said Robinson: “We haven't had big road wins since I've been here, two or three, so it felt good to come in here the way we're supposed to play and come out victorious.”

Allen, whose own cheering section of 20 to 30 family and friends had a hard time drowning out the boos, said he didn't pay attention to the crowd. He finished the game shooting 7 of 16 from the floor and 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“It didn't really matter to me,” Allen said. “I just wanted to come here and play together with my team and get the win.”

White said he talked to Allen about the possibility that he would be booed throughout the game.

“KeVaughn, he's as steady as any kid I've ever coached,” White said. “He's as even keeled, he's as laid back, that's just his demeanor, on the court, off the court, what you see on the court is what you get in a social setting, so he's not a guy that gets easily rattled.”

Florida built an 11-point lead early in the second half, but Arkansas cut it to 65-58 on an inside basket by center Moses Kingsley. That's when Allen hit his biggest shot of the night, an off-balanced 3-pointer to put Florida back up 68-58.

“I just went up and shot it with confidence,” Allen said.

Then, off an Arkansas miss, Hill went coast-to-coast for a transition dunk to extend UF's lead to 70-58.

Guard Daryl Macon led Arkansas (11-2, 0-1 SEC) with 22 points. Kingsley, the SEC's preseason player of the year, had 13 points and 14 rebounds while guard Dusty Hannahs finished with 11 points.

The near sellout crowd at Bud Walton watched the first three quarters of the Belk Bowl football game between Arkansas and Virginia Tech on the arena jumbotron before tipoff. Allen was booed during pregame introductions. The negative reception didn't faze him. Allen scored UF's first five points on a 3-pointer and drive to the lane.

Then, after Arkansas cut UF's lead to 25-24 on a Dustin Thomas inside basket, Allen heated up, scoring UF's next eight points on a mid-range jumper and a pair of 3-pointers to put the Gators up 33-26.

Robinson was able to impact the game with his athleticism as well, finishing with three first-half dunks. One came on a lob off an in-bounds play under the basket from Hill. Later in the first half, Hill found Robinson for a baseline drive and dunk to put UF ahead 37-31.

Defensively, Florida limited Kingsley and Hannahs to a combined 10 points. The Gators forced 10 turnovers in the first half, converting them into 12 points.

Allen scored 15 points in the first half, while Robinson had 10 first-half points, allowing the Gators to build a 44-35 halftime lead. Florida handled Arkansas' pressure well early, finishing the first half with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 9 to 2.

“We got punched in the mouth the first three minutes of the game and then really settled in,” White said. “I remember once we got that first stop, we looked to gain a little confidence on that (defensive) end.”

FREE THROWS: With six assists, Hill passed Vernon Delancy for fifth on UF's all-time career assist list. Hill now has 432 career assists … Sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes made his third straight start and finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 1 blocked shot.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

No. 25 FLORIDA 81, ARKANSAS 72

FLORIDA (10-3)

Leon 2-5 0-0 6, Robinson 6-11 5-7 17, Hayes 4-5 2-5 10, Hill 4-12 2-5 10, Allen 7-16 2-2 21, Stone 2-3 0-0 5, Rimmer 0-0 0-0 0, Egbunu 2-6 1-2 5, Chiozza 2-5 0-0 5, Barry 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 30-67 12-21 81.<

ARKANSAS (11-2)

Thomas 1-4 0-0 2, Kingsley 5-15 3-6 13, Macon 7-10 5-6 22, Watkins 2-5 0-0 4, Hannahs 4-9 1-1 11, Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Cook 2-5 4-4 8, Barford 1-8 0-0 2, Beard 3-5 3-3 10. Totals 25-61 16-20 72.<

Halftime_Florida 44-35. 3-Point Goals_Florida 9-26 (Allen 5-9, Leon 2-4, Stone 1-2, Chiozza 1-3, Barry 0-3, Robinson 0-5), Arkansas 6-15 (Macon 3-5, Hannahs 2-6, Beard 1-2, Barford 0-2). Fouled Out_Egbunu. Rebounds_Florida 33 (Egbunu 11), Arkansas 35 (Kingsley 14). Assists_Florida 13 (Hill 6), Arkansas 11 (Thomas, Thompson, Watkins, Barford 2). Total Fouls_Florida 17, Arkansas 19.

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