KeVaughn Allen didn’t give the Gators anything in the first 20 minutes, but he finished Wednesday night’s game in heroic fashion.
Florida desperately needed a quality win to put on its resume, and it was finally able to claw one out at LSU, led by the senior.
The Gators really controlled the pace early in the game despite not getting much from their leading scorer. Florida led by as many as eight in the first half and only trailed for the first couple minutes before ultimately taking a 33-31 lead to the locker room.
Andrew Nembhard started the game putting on the same show he did at Alabama on Saturday. He accounted for eight of Florida’s first 10 points by making two baskets and getting a pair of assists.
Jalen Hudson took over around the midway point of the first half as he scored 12 points in a span of five minutes.
Allen finally woke up with his first points on a three-ball early in the second half to put the Gators up by seven. But the 11-2 run by the Tigers that followed that shot gave LSU its first lead since the opening minutes at 44-42 with 13:45 left in regulation.
A transition jumper from Deaundrae Ballard and a second-chance three from a hobbled Noah Locke pushed Florida back ahead a couple minutes later.
The Tigers quickly tied it back, but Hudson responded with a three for his first and only points of the second half. LSU then took advantage of offensive boards and some foul calls on Florida to regain a three-point advantage with 6:27 to go.
Allen hit a timely three to tie it once again, but the Tigers had an answer with a dunk on the other end.
A couple minutes later, LSU held a three-point lead when Locke hit an off-balanced jumper and Allen drained another three to put Florida up 62-60 with 1:57 on the clock.
A bad foul by Keyontae Johnson sent the Tigers to the line to tie the game, but Johnson made up for it with a beautiful drive to the basket on the next possession.
After a timeout by the Gators, Naz Reid grabbed his own miss and got a jumper to go, but it was Florida ball with just a five-second differential between the shot clock and game clock.
Allen made a poor decision late in the shot clock as he dished it to Kevarrius Hayes under the basket with no time for him to even get anything off. LSU couldn’t get a shot to go in the remaining five seconds, sending the game to overtime.
The Gators had surprisingly taken advantage of the Tigers in the paint all night, but three-point shooting came to the rescue late.
Locke was the first to find the basket from long range in the period, putting Florida up 70-67 with 3:06 to go.
The Gators had held SEC Player of the Year candidate Tremont Waters to a rather quiet game, but he came through with the answer shortly after.
Allen saw his three and doubled it, with the first coming at the 2:05 mark and the second coming from way downtown after Locke grabbed his own offensive rebound to keep the following possession alive. That made it 76-70 with 1:12 and all signs pointing in Florida’s favor.
Nembhard got caught up in another poor foul on defense, but Waters made just one of his free throws while Allen hit both of his as the Tigers were forced to start fouling in the final minute.
LSU did everything it could to make things interesting in the end with a three-point play by Skylar Mays with 32 seconds and a deep three by Waters with 21.
After leading by seven, the Gators were up just 80-77. And after having such a strong overtime performance, Allen did the one thing he absolutely could not do in that situation: turn the ball over.
Waters bailed Florida out by trying to tie it up quickly with another long three attempt. It did not go, Locke came down with the defensive rebound and finished it with a pair of free throws, giving the Gators an 82-77 win.
“It was a terrific win,” said head coach Mike White. “A lot of adversity, a rollercoaster ride. I take that back—it could have been a rollercoaster ride. Our guys continued to stay the course. That’s what we just talked about in the locker room. They remained poised offensively. We hit huge shots after we gave up the lead. In the overtime period, we got down and just continued to fight, claw, battle.”
The Gators’ will to win came through in the game against a team that overmatched them on paper in almost every way.
LSU is so good on the boards, especially offensively, and could have easily taken Florida to school in that area. The Tigers were still great on the offensive glass, but only came down with three more offensive rebounds (18-15) than the Gators and had two more second chance points (19-17).
It seemed Florida got almost every 50-50 ball throughout the night.
“We were flying all over the place,” Hudson said. “We were just trying to be as active as we could. Obviously, they were taller than us, they were a little bit bigger than us, but we played real scrappy and we were everywhere.”
The Gators also had a 21-7 advantage in points off turnovers despite turning the ball over the same amount of times as the Tigers.
In the end, Allen led Florida with 21 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 5-for-9 from beyond the arc and 4-for-5 from the foul line.
Locke (5-for-13) and Hudson (6-for-13) were just behind with 15 points apiece. Good games from both of those guys were huge as Hudson hasn’t been himself all season and Locke has really struggled the last couple outings while battling a hip injury.
Hayes also finished in double figures with 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting and led the team with seven rebounds. Nembhard dished 8 of Florida’s 12 assists.
Now on a three-game winning streak, the Gators comfortably transition into what should (emphasis on should) be a laid-back stretch with games against three bottom-tier SEC teams.
If Florida can continue its progress over the next couple weeks, it will be in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament before rematches with LSU and Kentucky to close out the regular season.