BATON ROUGE, La. — Keyontae Johnson’s final shot looked good – but upon further review, it was just a split-second too late Tuesday.
Florida rallied from a double-digit deficit over the final 1:20 and had an opportunity to tie the game at the buzzer, and the baseline out-of-bounds went as planned.
But with half a second left on the clock, replay showed the ball still touching Johnson’s out-stretched fingertips. As the official confirmed the review, sending the Tigers faithful into a frenzy and keeping LSU undefeated in conference play with a 84-82 victory, the Gators could hardly watch.
“Now that we know what we could do, and we still had a chance to beat them,” Johnson said. “So it was a learning experience.”
His starting point guard wasn’t so sure that’s all it was.
“There’s a certain time where you can’t make a shot at, it’s .3 (seconds). If it’s above that, it’s good,” Andrew Nembhard said. “I mean, I don’t know. Maybe the time got started too early or something.”
Before it all came undone late, Florida (12-6, 4-2 SEC) had little trouble scoring from the jump despite leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. dealing with a stomach virus.
The Gators jumped out to a 22-15 lead – with a pair of 3-pointers from the graduate transfer helping give UF the early advantage – which forced the Tigers (14-4, 6-0) to switch to a full-court press.
It resulted in a series of sloppy turnovers from Florida’s backcourt, and soon the host Tigers had their first lead of the night at 33-32 with less than two minutes until the midpoint before Scottie Lewis’ successful 3-point attempt gave UF a slim two-point lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Despite trailing for much of the second half, the Gators managed to cut the lead to one possession in the final minute, thanks to an 8-0 run that took just 35 seconds.
“When you’re playing out of desperation sometimes offensively, and you’ve got nothing to lose, you shoot the ball with more confidence. Because there’s less repercussions for a miss,” Gators coach Mike White said. “I think that just playing downhill, nothing to lose, and our guys took advantage of that mentality.”
Florida had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute before Johnson’s last-ditch attempt, but Lewis stepped on the baseline for UF’s 12th and final turnover.
Still, the Gators didn’t consider throwing in the towel despite facing a double-digit deficit in the final two minutes.
“We’ve been in the situation before, Alabama, and we came back and it worked for us,” Nembhard said. “So we just tried to stay locked in, keep focusing on trying to win.”
LSU shot just 2-for-14 on 3-point attempts; meanwhile, the Gators made 11 of their long-range attempts – albeit on 30 shots – but the Tigers more than made up for the disparity at the free throw line.
Florida shot just 11 free throws to LSU’s 31. While Florida was struggling to get stops, the Tigers kept finding ways to get to the line.
After out-rebounding the SEC’s leaders in the category in a 22-point victory over Auburn at home Saturday, the Gators found themselves kept off the glass consistently by LSU, resulting in a 38-28 advantage on the glass for the Tigers. And when it came to crashing the glass on the offensive end, it was all LSU there as well – the Tigers hauled in 15 offensive rebounds to UF’s 8, which helped lead to 11 second-chance points for LSU, of which nine came in the second half.
And Blackshear wasn’t the only one ailing Tuesday for Florida. Back-up forward Dontay Bassett was held out after suffering a lower leg injury, forcing White to tighten up rotations. It was just another issue in a trip that started out rough for the Gators. Florida didn’t arrive in Baton Rouge until after midnight Monday due to mechanical trouble with the team’s plane.
With a match-up with No.1 Baylor looming, the Gators can ill afford to hang their heads – especially considering Tuesday’s finish.
“I thought we showed a lot of resilience and toughness down the stretch,” White said. “We were a split-second or two away from continuing to fight the fight.”
Notes: Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 16 points, while Andrew Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear both had 15 … Nembhard earned his second career double-double (10 assists) … Florida outscored LSU from the 3-point line, 33-6. … Locke made multiple 3-pointers for the 15th straight game, extending his program-record streak, and tying a game high for this season with four made. … Omar Payne made his first three field goal attempts of the night before a miss, reaching 16 consecutive makes over three games. That eclipsed Andrew Nembhard’s 15 in a row last season (Feb. 13-20) as the longest of the past decade.
LSU 84, Florida 82
Nembhard 6-16 2-2 15, Blackshear 5-7 3-4 15, Johnson 6-12 1-2 16, Locke 5-8 2-2 16, Lewis 4-7 0-0 9, Payne 3-4 1-1 7, Mann 0-3 0-0 0, Glover 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 31-61 9-11 82.
Smart 4-9 5-6 13, Mays 6-13 5-6 18, Watford 6-7 2-3 14, Williams 7-13 5-9 19, Taylor 3-8 3-3 10, Days 3-10 4-4 10, Hyatt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-60 24-31 84.
Halftime_Florida 36-34. 3-Point Goals_Florida 11-30 (Locke 4-7, Johnson 3-6, Blackshear 2-2, Lewis 1-3, Nembhard 1-7, Glover 0-2, Mann 0-3), LSU 2-14 (Taylor 1-3, Mays 1-4, Smart 0-2, Days 0-5). Fouled Out_Payne. Rebounds_Florida 28 (Johnson 9), LSU 34 (Taylor 10). Assists_Florida 13 (Nembhard 10), LSU 17 (Smart, Mays 7). Total Fouls_Florida 21, LSU 16.