The Florida Gators ended a tough stretch on Wednesday night as they defeated LSU for their first SEC win in over two weeks.
After defeating Kentucky at Rupp, Florida then suffered losses to South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama with each ending uglier than the last.
The LSU game could have easily gone the same way, but the Gators overcame adversity to get a 73-64 win.
The two teams battled for the first six minutes before the Tigers took a lead they would keep for the rest of the first half. LSU went on a 13-2 run to take a nine-point lead midway into the half, but Florida didn’t let it get too far out of hand and made it a 33-31 game by halftime.
The Gators proceeded to go on an 17-3 run coming out of the half and go up 48-36.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s become a trend for Florida to start the second half hot, but the question was if it could finish just as strong.
The Tigers started chipping away and brought it back within four with 10:48 remaining, but a couple of layups from Mike Okauru and Keith Stone gave the Gators some breathing room.
A couple minutes later, LSU was right back in it and even took a 59-58 lead after hitting a three-pointer, getting a couple defensive stops and an alley oop dunk.
This started to feel like about the time momentum would shift and Florida would not have an answer, but for the first time in a while, it did.
Stone got fouled and made both of his free throws the next possession to take back a one-point lead.
The Tigers hit a jumper to go up 61-60 and Jalen Hudson answered right back with a jumper of his own that put the Gators back on top for the final time.
Hudson and KeVaughn Allen took over the game from there offensively, scoring Florida’s final 13 points.
The Gators were soon up by seven, but an LSU three-pointer with 3:50 to go made things interesting again.
Chris Chiozza turned it over Florida’s next time down the court, but the Tigers weren’t quite as successful on the next three attempt, and an Allen jumper on the other end extended the lead to six.
Just for good measure, Stone and Kevarrius Hayes went up for a pair of blocks on LSU’s final real opportunity to get back in it, and it was smooth sailing from there.
After a couple of disappointing performances in a row, Mike White was very pleased with the way his team turned things around on Wednesday. The win can be attributed to several things, but 21 points on 16 forced turnovers had to be a major factor.
White said it was the hardest the team has played all season.
“I think if we play that hard and that together every night, we’ll have a chance every night,” he said. “If we don’t, there might be a couple we can win without that, but you’ve got a chance to get your brains beaten every night in this league the way that this league has improved. We just looked like a more mature, connected group tonight.”
The player that stood out the most to him in that sense was Hudson, who led Florida statistically on both ends of the court.
Hudson finished with 18 points (7-for-13 from the field, 2-for-5 from three) and nine rebounds, while also pitching in a couple assists and a block.
“I want to be careful on what to say here, just in case Jalen reads it,” White said. “That’s as hard as he’s played. That’s as hard as he’s played in any game or practice. I was proud of his effort.”
While it didn’t feel like the greatest offensive game as Florida went 6-for-18 from long range, it actually tied for its best shooting percentage (51.9) since facing Stanford in the PK80.
Rather than taking crazy shots when things weren’t going their way, the Gators stayed poised and moved the ball around until they found good looks.
Behind Hudson, Stone finished with 15, Egor Koulechov had 12 and Okauru made the most of his limited minutes with nine points.
Chiozza didn’t do much scoring on “Cheez Night” at the O’Dome, but he kept LSU’s best scorer Tremont Waters in check while grabbing six rebounds and dishing six assists.
While Chiozza didn’t exactly light up the stats, a lot of what he did won’t show up in the box score.
“Chris led a little bit vocally more so than normal,” White said. “His teammates have challenged him to do that. They’ve asked him to do that recently. His teammates, probably six or eight of them individually, have asked Chris to be more vocal and to call guys out and to demand more from his teammates … We need that. There’s only a certain amount that a coach can say, and there’s only a certain amount that guys really wanna hear it from a staff.”
Florida now sits at a 7-4 conference record and has some momentum heading into a matchup at South Carolina on Saturday. The Gators fell 77-72 at home to the Gamecocks just a few games back and don’t want to get too caught up in this win.
“We don’t wanna celebrate this,” Hudson said. “We’ve gotta keep our edge, keep the fire that we’re playing with. At the end of the day, it’s only one win. We’ve gotta just sustain that. We’ve gotta bring it every day in practice. How you practice is how you play, so we’ve just gotta get better and build on this.”