Andrew Nembhard might have just booked the Gators’ ticket to March Madness with a dagger three with one second left on the clock that put them up 76-73, the eventual final score after LSU couldn’t come up with a miraculous shot to tie. After falling behind 35-25 at the half the Gators made some incredible adjustments in the second that saw their offense go from stagnant to electric and the 51 points they put up in the second half brought them the victory. With the game tied at 73 the Gators saw a 1-3-1 zone from the Tigers, a look they have seen multiple times in the meetings between the two so far. Keyontae Johnson scrambled the zone by getting a drive to the middle of the floor, drawing help and finding Andrew Nembhard at the time of the 3-point line. From the moment it left the freshman’s hand, you knew it was going to be nothing but net. With this win the Gators advance to the next round of the SEC Tournament and barring some wild series of events, they should also be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.
There was two turning points in this basketball game and both of them centered around Keyontae Johnson. First, an alley-oop connection from Andrew Nembhard that saw Johnson stretch way back to catch the ball and throw it down with authority kickstarted a stretch where Florida erased a double-digit deficit to get back into the basketball game. Then, with the score 63-60 for the Tigers the ball was swung to Johnson behind the 3-point line after he was freed up by a screen from Kevarrius Hayes. As Johnson rose up for the shot, Naz Reid pushed through the screen from Hayes, forcing a whistle. At that moment, Johnson was rising up for a jump shot which he then made. The foul was called on Reid, and an ensuing uproar of a reaction from the LSU earned them a technical foul. If you’re keeping track at home, that means the 3 points from Johnson counted and the Gators are now shooting 2 technical free throws followed by Hayes shooting 2 free throws after the foul from Reid. With a chance for an unprecedented 7-point play the Gators converted on 3 of 4 free throws, and in one possession it went from 63-60 Tigers to 66-63 Gators.
All 5 Gator starters were in double figures scoring this season, something that hasn’t been accomplished at any other point this season. Andrew Nembhard led the way with 20 while Keyontae Johnson had 16, Jalen Hudson had 13, Kevaughn Allen had 12, and Kevarrius Hayes had 11 including two key yet unexpected jump shots. That balance is something Coach White must crave and it’s something they haven’t gotten a lot this year and this should be extremely encouraging moving forward. Even with the balance, the best Gators were definitely the freshmen tandem of Nembhard and Johnson. Besides the game winner Nembhard had 6 assists with 0 turnovers and had some key baskets including a pretty euro-step to the hoop a few possessions earlier that the Gators needed. In addition to his 16 points Johnson had 10 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 assists and that also deserves a ton of recognition.
Mike White and the Gator players deserve a ton of credit for adjusting at half time to the size and length of LSU on the defensive end. For the Gators to only score 25 points in the first to then score 51 in the second shows some outstanding adjustments and it speaks a lot to the mental toughness of the team. I thought the Gators did a much better job of spacing the floor in the second half, stretching the Tigers out a few steps further to make their length a little bit less noticeable. I thought Andrew Nembhard did an outstanding job of making the defense pay when they gambled for steals on him and it often lead to good shots for his teammates.
The Gators will play the winner of Auburn and South Carolina, both teams they have fallen to this season. Reffing played a major role in the loss to the Gamecocks in a game Florida really should have won but their loss to Auburn wasn’t even close and those electric Tiger guards really diced the Gators defense. Whoever the Gators play, they should hopefully have some major confidence after this LSU win.
This might as well have been a conference title game for the Gators because if they lost this one I’m not sure if they would have made the Big Dance. The fact that they overcame a major deficit shows a whole lot of heart and the Gators might be playing their most charmed basketball of the season when they really need it. Their next round game will be an opportunity to better their seed which is definitely something they should take seriously. This was a gutsy win and it’s one I’m certainly going to remember for quite some