The shot went up from the lightly guarded player with a sweet, pure arc that headed right at the heart of Florida’s modest winning streak.
But these are the new-look Gators who keep finding different ways to win games. Jevon Pickett’s shot rimmed out with eight seconds to play, Florida rebounded and eventually finished off a physical Missouri team 64-60 Saturday as 10,450 watched at Exactech Arena.
“I clenched my gut,” Florida coach Mike White said of Pickett’s shot with the Gators up two points.
Pickett, who finished with 15 points, had an open look on the play, but after his miss Keyontae Johnson grabbed the rebound and shoveled the ball before he came down with it to deadly free-throw shooter KeVaughn Allen, who was fouled with 5.5 seconds to play.
Allen made both to wrap things up for the streaking Gators.
“Smart play,” White said of Johnson’s pass to Allen. “KeVaughn’s such a quiet guy I’m not sure he called for it.”
The Gators won despite a miserable first half, despite a bad start to the second half that saw them go down by 12 and despite making only three 3-point shots in the game.
On a day UF saluted the 1994 Final Four team, whose motto was “Find A Way”, this year’s edition continues to do the same thing in February — finding different ways to win.
Allen’s final free throws finished off a day where he scored 17 points despite missing all four of his 3-point attempts. On Wednesday, Allen scored 21 points in the second half and overtime. On Saturday, he had 14 after halftime.
“They were playing great defense,” said Allen. “It’s just been the second half lately.”
The Gators fell into a hole at the half trailing 33-24 and it only got worse in the second half. A 3 by Jordan Geist, who finished with 16 points, made it 40-28 Mizzou.
Florida slowly chipped into the lead (with the help of a technical on Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin), finally going in front on two free throws by Kevarrius Hayes with 4:55 to play.
Missouri (12-14, 3-11) scored only four points in the last 5:49 of the game and Florida made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch. The Gators finished the game shooting 25-for-30 from the line.
“We knew they were going to be physical on defense,” said White. “We needed to drive the ball. It was a point of emphasis heading into the game.”
Florida (16-11, 8-6) kept its momentum going in its quest for a third straight NCAA bid.
And one reason has been the play of the seniors coming down the stretch.
“It’s coming to an end. I want to give it everything I’ve got,” said senior Jalen Hudson.
Hudson has been a big part of this two-week run, scoring in double figures in four of his last five games. He had 11 Saturday with five rebounds.
“I would hope so,” White said when told of Hudson’s comments. “It’s the bottom of the ninth for the seniors. For all of our guys, especially our seniors, they should be as urgent as they’ve ever been.”
Florida got 13 points from freshman Keyontae Johnson, who had seven rebounds and has had at least seven in eight of the 11 games he has started. They also got a solid effort from Isaiah Stokes, who had six points in the first half.
So with contributions coming from a number of players, the Gators are piecing together a team that once appeared broken, one game over .500 and sliding fast.
The new Gators showed their physical side by getting to the free throw 30 times.
“Our team has avoided contact at times (this season),” White said. “It’s been a struggle to generate physicality and find ways to get to the line. To win a little bit differently I think is a nice step to see and the rate we converted was a big factor for us.”
Florida is back on the road Wednesday, traveling to face Vanderbilt at 9 p.m. in Nashville. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Florida beat Vandy 66-57 at home on Feb. 13.
|FLORIDA 64, MISSOURI 60|
Puryear 1-2 1-2 3, Tilmon 3-5 2-2 8, Pickett 6-14 2-3 15, Geist 7-17 1-1 16, Pinson 1-3 2-2 5, Santos 0-0 0-0 0, Mi.Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Nikko 2-3 0-1 4, Suggs 0-1 0-0 0, Watson 3-10 0-2 9. Totals 23-55 8-13 60.
Johnson 4-8 4-6 13, Hayes 2-4 4-5 8, Locke 1-6 0-0 3, Nembhard 0-1 4-4 4, Allen 4-10 9-10 17, Bassett 0-0 2-2 2, Stokes 3-7 0-0 6, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Hudson 4-7 2-3 11. Totals 18-43 25-30 64.
Halftime_Missouri 33-24. 3-Point Goals_Missouri 6-21 (Watson 3-9, Pinson 1-2, Pickett 1-5, Geist 1-5), Florida 3-15 (Johnson 1-2, Hudson 1-3, Locke 1-5, Nembhard 0-1, Allen 0-4). Fouled Out_Pinson, Tilmon. Rebounds_Missouri 28 (Pickett, Nikko 6), Florida 23 (Johnson 7). Assists_Missouri 10 (Pinson 3), Florida 8 (Nembhard 4). Total Fouls_Missouri 24, Florida 14. Technicals_Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.