Florida had been plagued by what coach Mike White termed as “hero ball” down the stretch in back-to-back losses against Georgia and Alabama last week.
But with the prospect of facing another deflating home loss, the Gators stayed poised, moved the basketball and ran offense. Junior guards Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen hit timely shots in the final 5:45 and Florida was able to pull away for a 73-64 win over LSU on Wednesday before 9,833 at the O’Connell Center.
“Some of it was plays, some of it was guys playing and some of it was just taking advantage of mismatches,” White said.
Florida finished the game with 14 assists to 12 turnovers after posting a combined negative assist-to-turnover ratio (17-19) in its pair of losses last week. By working together more, the Gators (16-8, 7-4 SEC) snapped a two-game losing streak and three-game losing skid against conference opponents.
“We did a better job searching and cutting when guys came to jump stops,” White said. “Valued the ball at a pretty high level. Got decent inside-out action, moreso than most games this season.”
Florida squandered a 12-point second-half lead, falling behind 61-60 on a bank shot by LSU freshman guard Tremont Waters. But Hudson and Allen combined to score UF’s last 13 points. Hudson put UF ahead to stay 62-61 with a jumper, then Allen followed with a three-point play in the lane off a three-man weave play to put the Gators ahead 65-61 with 4:32 left. Then, on a kick-out pass from junior center Kevarrius Hayes, Hudson hit an open 3-pointer to put Florida up 68-61.
“We wanted to make other teams guard us,” Hudson said. “In the past we have shot the ball quick whether it be a good shot or a bad shot. We were focusing on taking great shots tonight. To do that, we had to share the ball and pass up good shots in order to get great shots.”
Waters made a 3-pointer with 3:50 left to cut UF’s lead to 68-64, but the Gators were able to close the game out with another basket from Allen and three-point play from Hudson. Florida also came up with some big defensive plays in holding LSU scoreless in the final 3:50, including back-to-back blocks from Keith Stone and Hayes and a big defensive rebound in traffic by Hudson.
Hudson led three UF scorers in double figures and had a solid game on both ends of the floor with 18 points, nine rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot.
“That’s as hard as he’s played, in any game or in any practice,” White said. “Was proud of his effort. He had great activity on the ball, guarding the basketball.”
White opted to shed his sport jacket early in the game after keeping his coat on in every SEC game since Vanderbilt, “I was little warm,” joked White, who is known to be superstitious.
But a change in UF’s luck didn’t happen right away. LSU took an early 20-11 lead on a 3-pointer from Brandon Sampson. The Gators, though, were able to chip away, cutting LSU’s lead to 33-31 at halftime. Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone, who scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half, helped keep UF in the game.
The Gators then opened the second half on a 16-3 run sparked by guard Egor Koulechov, who scored 10 points during the run on a pair of 3-pointers, two free throws and a long two-pointer, which put UF up 48-36.
Midway through the second half, Florida had some breakdowns in transition defense that proved costly. Three straight transition baskets, two coming from LSU center Duop Reath, cut UF’s lead to 52-48. From there, LSU rallied back to regain the lead 59-58 on an alley-oop pass from Waters to Sampson, who dunked over outstretched Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza.
White credited Chiozza for keeping the Gators together with more vocal leadership. For the second straight game, Chiozza had an off-shooting night, going 1 of 5 from the field and air-balling a 3-point attempt. On “Cheese Night” with UF’s student section, the Rowdy Reptiles wearing orange foam cheese heads, Chiozza finished with three points, six assists, six rebounds, three steals and four turnovers.
“Chris led a little bit vocally, moreso than normal,” White said. “His teammates have challenged him to do that, asked him to do that, probably six or eight of them individually have asked Chris to be more vocal, to call guys out and demand more from his teammates.”
Chiozza expended energy guarding Waters, helping hold LSU’s leading scorer to nine points on 3-of-15 shooting. Waters also had seven of LSU’s 16 turnovers. Sampson led LSU (13-0, 4-7 SEC) with 17 points.
“We played very, very hard,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We just didn’t play very, very smart and that gets you beat on the road.”
FREE THROWS: Hudson started at shooting guard Wednesday, with Allen coming off the bench because he was late for Wednesday’s pre-game shoot around. “He was actually doing academic work, but it wasn’t communicated,” White said. “It wasn’t being defiant. He is so far from defiant. Just a couple of minutes late and we know the deal, he wasn’t starting.” … Freshman guard Mike Okauru had nine points off the bench, his highest scoring total since scoring nine points at Ole Miss on Jan. 13. … With six assists, Chiozza passed Ronnie Montgomery for third on UF’s all-time assist list with 508. … Florida wore black jerseys against LSU and improved to 3-1 in black jerseys under White.
|FLORIDA 73, LSU 64|
Epps 3-5 0-0 8, Reath 4-8 0-2 8, Mays 1-3 0-0 2, Waters 3-15 2-4 9, Edwards 3-7 1-2 9, Sims 3-6 1-2 7, Rachal 2-2 0-0 4, Sampson 5-8 3-5 17, Onwuasor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 7-15 64.
Stone 5-8 4-4 15, Hayes 3-4 3-4 9, Koulechov 4-8 2-2 12, Hudson 7-13 2-3 18, Chiozza 1-5 1-2 3, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Gak 0-0 0-2 0, Okauru 4-7 0-2 9, Allen 3-7 1-1 7. Totals 27-52 13-20 73.
Halftime_LSU 33-31. 3-Point Goals_LSU 9-28 (Sampson 4-7, Epps 2-4, Edwards 2-4, Waters 1-9, Reath 0-2, Mays 0-2), Florida 6-18 (Koulechov 2-5, Hudson 2-5, Stone 1-2, Okauru 1-3, Allen 0-1, Chiozza 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_LSU 30 (Waters 7), Florida 30 (Hudson 9). Assists_LSU 13 (Waters 6), Florida 14 (Chiozza 6). Total Fouls_LSU 19, Florida 13.