Looking to rebound from consecutive losses and fight for a road victory despite being down two primary reserves, the No. 12/14 Florida Gators (20-6, 8-3 SEC) reached 20 wins for the 14th consecutive season with a 61-52 defeat of the Alabama Crimson Tide (16-9, 5-6 SEC) at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, AL on Valentine’s Day.
It was a tale of two halves for Florida and Alabama on Tuesday night.
The Gators shot just 30.8 percent from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from three in the first half but turned things around in the latter portion of the game, hitting 50 percent of their field goals and 33.3 percent of their treys in the second half. Conversely, the Crimson Tide shot 58.8 percent from the floor and 60 percent from beyond the arc to start but made just 28.6 percent and nine percent (1-of-11) of their attempts, respectively, in the final 20 minutes.
Both teams opened the game playing sloppily with badly missed baskets and an abundance of turnovers. However, Alabama got things under control first and used a 9-0 run (along with a 5:36 scoring drought for Florida) to take a 20-16 lead in the first half. The Gators answered by outscoring the Crimson Tide 10-6 on the way to the halftime buzzer with a three-pointer by junior forward Erik Murphy tying the contest at 26.
Florida came out of the break with an explosive scoring barrage as the Gators netted 16-straight points as part of a 19-0 run dating back to 1:34 remaining in the first half. Alabama scored just two points in the first nine minutes of the second half with the Crimson Tide starting 0-for-10 from the field.
Picking up his fourth foul with 10:18 left in the game, Florida sophomore center Patric Young was forced to take a seat even though he was leading the Gators with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting at the time. Alabama scored four quick points and got the home crowd energized by attacking the paint, but the Crimson Tide was soon silenced by Murphy’s fourth trey of the contest.
Alabama did not get within double digits of Florida again until the final 30 seconds as the Gators maintained their energy level and gutted out a much-needed road victory.
Florida got its biggest advantage in the turnover margin, forcing 18 Alabama miscues and converting those additional possessions into 24 points. The Gators outscored the Crimson Tide 26-22 in the paint but were outscored 0-32 off the bench.
UF did, however, have 13 assists on 21 made baskets including seven from senior point guard Erving Walker, who passed Ronnie Montgomery for No. 1 all-time on Florida’s career assists list (505).
Complimenting Young’s solid game in the paint, Murphy and freshman guard Bradley Beal each scored 14 points for the Gators with the youngster adding a team-high eight rebounds and three dimes to his total. Murphy was an outstanding 4-of-8 from downtown and grabbed five boards of his own.
Guard Andrew Steele, one of two Alabama players returning from suspension on the decision of head coach Anthony Grant, led the Crimson Tide with 11 points while bringing down five rebounds and dishing three assists on the evening.
Both teams were without a pair of important players for Tuesday’s game. Florida had sophomore F Will Yeguete (concussion) and redshirt junior G Mike Rosario (hip pointer) sidelined with injures, while Alabama F JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell – the team’s top two scorers and rebounders – were out on indefinite suspension.
The Gators will look to continue their winning ways Saturday when they travel to Arkansas for their second of four road contests in the next five games. The two teams will tip off at 6 p.m. live on ESPN2.