Florida grabs key SEC road win at Georgia

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Georgia's Anthony Edwards moves the ball passed Florida forward Keyontae Johnson (11) during Wednesday's game in Athens, Ga. [Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald]

By CHARLES ODUM/ AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Ga. — If defense is the measuring stick, Florida is peaking just in time for the postseason.

Noah Locke sank back-to-back 3-pointers during Florida’s decisive run of 10 unanswered points in the second half and the Gators strengthened their NCAA Tournament hopes by beating Georgia 66-54 on Wednesday night.

Keyontae Johnson had 18 points for Florida (19-11, 11-6 Southeastern Conference), which had to recover after trailing by 13 points early in the game. The Gators had good reason for confidence. They overcame a 22-point deficit in their win over the Bulldogs last month.

Locke had 17 points while making three 3-pointers.

Georgia had scored 90 or more points in back-to-back games, including Saturday’s 99-89 win over Arkansas. Against Florida’s zone defense, however, Georgia struggled.

“That’s as well as we’ve defended all year,” said Florida coach Mike White. “… It was easy to get these guys’ attention defensively. If not, they would have put up 90 on us.”

Anthony Edwards had 14 points, making only 3 of 10 shots from the field, in what is expected to be his final home game for Georgia. Edwards, a 6-foot-5 guard who is the nation’s top freshman scorer, is expected to be one of the top picks in the NBA draft.

“I don’t ever look at it like it’s my last home game,” Edwards said. “No one ever knows what I’m doing so I don’t say that.”

Scottie Lewis, who scored 11 points and blocked two shots, led the defensive effort on Edwards.

“Them getting that zone that they were in and packing it in was hard for us, because we weren’t prepared for that,” Edwards said.

Coach Tom Crean said he was surprised by Edwards’ comment. “We spent the majority of the time on the zone the past two days,” Crean said.

Georgia’s Jordan Harris said the Gators “changed their defense and they kept changing it the entire game.”

“It was hard for us to prepare for because we never knew what they were coming out with,” Harris said. “I think that was the biggest thing, the way they played defensively.”

Rayshaun Hammonds had 12 points, 10 rebounds and six turnovers for Georgia (15-15, 5-12).

Florida rallied after trailing by 22 points to beat Georgia 81-75 on Feb. 5. Less than five minutes into Wednesday night’s rematch, the Gators were behind by double figures once again.

Edwards’ 3-pointer capped a 13-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 19-6 lead. The long jumper came after Edwards’ steal and pass set up a jam by Tyree Crump.

Locke ended the Florida drought with a jumper.

“That led to other things,” Lewis said. “Obviously when we’re shooting the ball from 3 at a high level, Noah and I, plus (Andrew Nembhard), we’re a totally different team.”

Florida outscored Georgia 22-11 the remainder of the half, cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to 30-28 at the break.

Johnson drove through the Georgia defense for a two-handed jam that cut the lead to 23-20. He had three more layups in the closing minutes of the half. The sophomore had 13 points in the half.

Two wasted scoring opportunities hurt Florida’s chance to take control midway through the second half. An offensive goaltending call against Dontay Bassett and a shot-clock violation on an apparent jumper by Johnson helped open the door for the Bulldogs.

Edwards’ power move and dunk cut Florida’s lead to 45-44. A basket by Tye Fagan with 7:53 remaining gave Georgia a 46-45 lead.

Georgia couldn’t keep the momentum.

Florida answered with an 10-0 run that included 3-pointers by Locke following traveling turnovers on consecutive possessions by Hammonds and Edwards.

The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 55-50 on a 3-pointer by Sahvir Wheeler but couldn’t continue the comeback bid. Locke added another 3-pointer for a 64-52 lead.

“We played with confidence down the stretch,” White said. “Noah is a great shooter.”

BIG PICTURE

With a No. 34 ranking in the new NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) that will be the new barometer for the selection committee, Florida’s spot in the NCAA Tournament appears to be secure. Still, after a loss at Tennessee, the Gators needed the win to avoid creating doubt, especially with a difficult home game remaining against No. 6 Kentucky.

Georgia, rebuilding under second-year coach Tom Crean, honored seniors Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump and Donnell Gresham before their final home game. But this team was built for the future. Edwards is one of nine freshmen on the roster.

STEP BACK

Crean said his team’s 16 turnovers and poor defense were disappointing. “The bottom line is we had been better taking care of the ball and we had been better defensively and we took a step back tonight,” Crean said.

Up next: Florida closes out regular-season play with a 1 p.m. game Saturday (on CBS) against No. 6 Kentucky, which defeated the Gators 65-59 in Lexington on Feb. 22.


FLORIDA (19-11)

Blackshear 3-9 2-5 8, Johnson 8-14 1-2 18, Lewis 4-10 2-2 11, Locke 7-12 0-0 17, Nembhard 2-4 3-4 8, Mann 2-6 0-0 5, Bassett 0-0 1-2 1, Glover 0-1 0-0 0, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 9-15 68.

GEORGIA (15-15)

Camara 2-2 1-2 5, Hammonds 5-10 0-2 12, Edwards 3-10 7-8 14, Harris 3-5 1-1 7, Wheeler 3-7 0-0 8, Crump 1-4 0-0 2, Gresham 1-3 0-0 2, Fagan 2-3 0-0 4, Peake 0-0 0-0 0, Howard 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-46 9-13 54.

Halftime_Georgia 30-28. 3-Point Goals_Florida 7-23 (Locke 3-7, Nembhard 1-1, Mann 1-2, Johnson 1-4, Lewis 1-5, Blackshear 0-4), Georgia 5-15 (Wheeler 2-3, Hammonds 2-4, Edwards 1-4, Gresham 0-1, Harris 0-1, Crump 0-2). Rebounds_Florida 29 (Johnson 11), Georgia 28 (Hammonds 10). Assists_Florida 15 (Nembhard 6), Georgia 11 (Wheeler 6). Total Fouls_Florida 13, Georgia 15.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Nothing like a win to keep the comment board silent. Way to go Gators! This was a much needed win on the road in the SEC…nothing to sneeze at. Despite the disappointing loss at UT, the Gators’ 7-3 record in their last 10 games trails only UK’s 8-2 in conference. With Auburn and LSU losing, the Gators can wrap up the second seed for the SEC tournament with a win over the Cats on Saturday. It would give the Gators a 20 win regular season again, after having to go to the NCAA tourney to get their 20th last season.

    It’s a done deal now that KJ is the MVP of the team. If he plays well, the team usually wins. In addition to his 18 points and 11 rebounds, he had 2 assists and 3 steals. I think this was his 8th double-double, and he just fills the stat sheet.

    Blackshear disappeared a bit in this game, and when he had an opportunity to help seal the win down the stretch, he went 2-4 from the FT line. Hope this was just an anomaly for him.

    Go Gators!

      • Thanks, Sam. Good to see a post from you. Not nearly enough posts here. Over 1300 views and only two (now three) posts.

        As Pat Dooley would say, “Your Florida Gators” just won an important SEC road game, held UGA to its lowest point total of the season, held NBA prospect “Antman” Edwards to 14 on 30% shooting, looked pretty good on offense with Nembhard dishing, Locke hitting 3’s, and KJ dominating, and all we get here is crickets. Maybe you guys ain’t woke yet! Go Gators!!!

    • Well said, cool Joe! I can’t add anything other than K. Johnson is the man! And I hope the Gators have a blast Saturday at home on the Billy Donovan Court. They seem to play their best when they play loose and have fun! Go Gators! Beat U.K.!

  2. Great game on both ends of the court. This team played with consistent effort on both ends of the court. I hope we can do it again Saturday. I would really like to beat those Cats and if we play with the same consistent effort, I feel like we will. Go Gators. Let’s celebrate a 20 win season against Kentucky. Really, Really enjoyed watching tonight’s game.

  3. Great game by the Gators last night. It was senior night at UGA too..so not the easiest environment to grab a win. Kentucky is not a must win, but as Joe said, it could make this season a great building block for the tournament and especially next year.

    Win:
    1. 20 regular season wins
    2. #2 finish in the SEC
    3. #2 seed in SEC Tournament, setting up for a deep run.
    4. Improves seeding – maybe even #7 or #6, getting UF out of the #1 seed’s side of the bracket

    Lose:
    1. 19-12
    2. Log jam at #4 with 11-7 record
    3. #4 possible seed in SEC Tournament, meaning UK in 2nd game
    4. #8 or #9 seed with the #1 seed in Rnd 2.

    I have been hoping for this team to be on a consistent uphill trajectory and winning a game on the road late in the season and following it up with a big home win against your rival would definitely show that this team is on-track. If they lose, it is not the end of the world, but it does make it more difficult.