TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Conference wins on the road are hard to come by.
Certainly, No. 23 Florida found that out Tuesday night at Alabama.
Somehow, Florida overcame first-half foul trouble to two starters and some issues on the boards to beat Alabama 80-67 at Coleman Coliseum.
The Gators (13-3, 4-0 SEC) won their sixth straight and are off to a 4-0 start in league play for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They couldn't have done it without big contributions from the bench. Redshirt freshman forward Keith Stone scored a team-high 14 points while Canyon Barry added 13 points. Point guard Kasey Hill had 13 points and four assists.
Florida let an 18-point first-half lead slip away, then trailed by as many as six points in the second half before closing the game out strong. Freshman forward Braxton Key was a thorn in UF's side all night, scoring a game-high 24 points for the Crimson Tide (9-6, 2-1 SEC). Alabama also outrebounded UF 37-30 and scored 14 second-chance points.
“There was a lot of adversity,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Braxton Key got it going … it was as much poise as we've played with if you consider all those things, you've gotta play with poise, you've got to play with composure and you've got to get contributions from multiple guys and we were able to do that.”
A win didn't look promising for the Gators when Key made a pair of free throws to put Alabama up 53-47 with 10:36 left. But Stone gave the Gators life with a 3-pointer to cut Alabama's lead to 53-50.
“If I get going defensively, I know I can get myself going offensively,” said Stone, who had his highest-scoring game since scoring a career high 15 on Nov. 27 against Miami. “If you play good defense, it will translate to offense all the time.”
From there, Florida chipped away, cutting Alabama's lead to one point three times before Stone made another big 3-pointer to put the Gators back ahead 61-59 with 7:03 remaining.
After Alabama tied the score at 61 on a pair of Ingram free throws, Florida was able to get stops and get to the free throw line. Junior forward Devin Robinson and Hill made four straight free throws, then Stone made one of two to give Florida a 66-61 lead.
“We stayed together as a team,” Hill said. “We never thought we were going to lose the game. Every huddle, we just came closer and closer and kept telling each other we were going to win the game.”
Florida took a 68-63 lead when sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen came up with a steal that led to a Hill transition layup. Off another Florida steal, the Gators were able to work the shot clock down and get a dunk from John Egbunu to put UF up 70-63.
A layup by Ar'Mond Davis cut UF's lead to 72-65, but any chance of Alabama comeback was thwarted when Barry hit a corner 3-pointer to put UF up 75-65 with 1:31 left.
White went to a trapping, 1-3-1 defense in order to avoid foul trouble in the last five minutes. The move worked. Hill came up with three of his five steals during that span, which led to six of UF's 27 points off turnovers for the game. The Gators forced 18 turnovers and improved to 16-2 under White when forcing 16 turnovers or more.
“I didn't anticipate creating the amount of turnovers we did,” White said. “We had active hands and we executed well defensively down the stretch when we needed it.”
Florida made five of its first six shots to jump to a quick 13-6 lead. But forward Justin Leon picked up his second foul of the first half at the 10:22 mark, while Allen got his second foul with 9:11 remaining in the first half.
Allen, who earned SEC player of the week honors last week, was the focus of Alabama's defense throughout the night. Coming in averaging 19.3 points over his last three games, Allen was held to six points on 2 of 7 shooting.
Even with Allen and Leon in first-half foul trouble, Florida was able to continue to execute offensively. A 3-pointer from Stone extended UF's lead to 34-16 with 5:11 left, capping a 14-1 UF run.
But Alabama closed the half strong behind Key, who scored seven straight points on a 3-pointer and a pair of inside baskets to cut UF's lead to 34-23.
After a Barry jumper put UF up 36-25, Davis made a desperation 22-footer as the shot clock expired to cut UF's lead to 36-28. Key then followed with a putback to get the Tide within 36-30 with 1:19 left in the first half.
The Gators took a 38-31 into halftime despite being outrebounded 21-17 and outscored 15-4 in the final 5:11 of the first half.
Florida was able to avenge a 61-55 loss to Alabama in Gainesville a season ago and has won 12 of their last 13 meetings with the Tide.
“They were a better team for longer periods tonight,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “Give them credit. Coach White is doing a nice job with his team.”
FREE THROWS: Former Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey was on the opposing bench as an assistant coach under Avery Johnson at Alabama. Pelphrey, who was hired last April, has already made an impact in recruiting, helping land Ohio State transfer center Daniel Giddens, who will be eligible to play for the Tide next season. … With four assists, Hill is just four shy of Gator guard Nick Calathes for fourth on UF's all-time assist list. Hill has 448 assists.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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