It took 26 games to get there but the Gators finally have it, a signature win on their resume that boosts them in the metrics and puts them into the NCAA Tournament picture. After a grueling, physical contest that took an extra frame to decide the Gators rode the hot shooting of KeVaughn Allen to defeat the home LSU Tigers by a score of 82-77. After severely struggling to start the contest Allen caught fire in the overtime period with 12 points in the 5 minutes of bonus basketball, most impressively hitting two 3s on back to back trips that were deep, contested, and utter backbreakers to the Tigers. Though guard Tremont Waters responded with two ridiculous threes of his own to keep LSU’s chances alive, free throws by KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke kept the orange and blue out in front and the Tigers couldn’t cut the deficit. This is far and away the biggest win of the season for the Gators and they showed a whole lot of mental and physical toughness on their way to a much-deserved victory.
Second Half Star
As I mentioned before KeVaughn Allen had a slow start to the game with 0 points in the first half as he struggled against the size and length of the Tigers. He finished with a tremendous 21 points with all of them coming in the second half and overtime. Allen is a boom-or-bust shooter and we saw both sides of that in 45 minutes and though he had some frustrating moments he made up for it with some absurd shots to win it.
Noah Locke is battling through a lower body injury right now that would have an average player hobbled on the sideline. However, Noah Locke is no average player. He played 36 gritty minutes tonight and had 15 points, a few of which came on nice floaters on the interior. Him being out there energizes his teammates and he contributed to winning basketball tonight.
Running The Show
Andrew Nembhard definitely deserved a shout-out for his performance tonight as he controlled the tempo of the game and made it run at Florida’s slower desired pace, not the up-tempo pace LSU wants to play with. Finishing with 8 points and 8 assists he generated some great looks for teammates and had some physical finishes inside early in the first half. He also positioned himself well defensively against speedster Tremont Waters and held him to a manageable 10 points and remember, 6 of those points came off two ridiculous deep threes that he chucked up as prayers late in the overtime period.
This was as physical a game as Florida has played this season and a lot of the fight was after every missed shot where both teams threw their bodies around jostling for position. LSU lives and dies on the offensive glass and they did have their way with the Gators grabbing 23 offensive rebounds, a number that would almost singlehandedly guarantee you victory on most nights. Giving up offensive rebounds can be frustrating but the Gators didn’t stop defending when the Tigers grabbed an o-board and continued to fight to defend the rim. Florida’s tenacity was on full display and they didn’t allow LSU’s offensive rebounds to be the difference maker.
Coming out firing and hitting his first 4 shots of the game this was a strong performance from the redshirt-senior Jalen Hudson. He did get cold in the second half but the initial burst of offense he had in the first half leading to his game total of 15 points helped the Gators get the lead and not fall behind, something that was amazing for them on the road in a tough building. We still haven’t totally seen the same Jalen Hudson that dominated offensively last year but we may have had a glimpse tonight.
It really seems like this is a different basketball team than the one we saw earlier in the season. They’re playing more connected defensively, they’re moving the ball on offense, and they’re not giving up big leads. This is as good of a time as any for the Gators to put everything together and the schedule now sets up favorably for them to put together some wins. If Florida’s season ends well this could be the game we look back at as the turning point.