A week off appeared to do the No. 14/17 Florida Gators (15-4, 3-1 SEC) plenty of good as head coach Billy Donovan squad looked focused and energized on its way to a 76-64 victory over the LSU Tigers (12-7, 2-3 SEC) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Saturday night.
Led by a standout performance from junior forward Erik Murphy, who scored a team-high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-for-4 from downtown), the Gators shot 56.3 percent from the field and 74.1 percent (20-for-27) on two-point attempts on their way to winning their 16th game in a row at the O’Dome.
LSU took the early momentum in the game, taking an early 10-4 lead while hitting four of their first five attempts from the field.
Though Florida sophomore F Will Yeguete took his place in the starting lineup for the second-straight game, sophomore center Patric Young (ankle) entered the contest less than four minutes after it started and scored six-straight points to tie the game at 10.
The Gators began to get on the Tigers’ nerves with their press and the offense took advantage of the defense’s success. Three-pointers from Murphy and freshman guard Bradley Beal bookended a 13-4 run that gave Florida their first lead of the game, 23-16, with 8:44 remaining in the first half.
UF kept the momentum going through the end of the half, using a 7-0 run to take a game-high 38-26 lead into the break.
Consecutive treys by redshirt junior G Mike Rosario
and sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin
put the Gators ahead a game-high 16 points with 13:39 left, but LSU stitched together a 10-2 run to cut the Tigers’ deficit in half with 7:46 remaining.
Florida maintained its eight-point lead with three minutes left in the game and that’s when senior PG Erving Walker took over, scoring eight of UF’s last 10 points.
Murphy was one of five Gators to score in double figures. Walker posted 12 points but only hit 1-of-6 attempts from downtown, and three other Florida players – Beal, Rosario and junior G Kenny Boynton – added 11 points each.
Walker moved into seventh all-time at UF in career scoring by the end of the contest, passing Gene Shy, Matt Bonner and Eugene McDowell with 1,575 points.
Beal’s eight boards were a team-high, and Rosario played 15 solid minutes off the bench. Boynton went 0-for-4 from three, ending a 34-game streak of hitting at least one trey. The mark was second-longest in school history behind Lee Humphrey (39).
LSU F Justin Hamilton led his team throughout the entire game, scoring a career-high 27 points and grabbing eight rebounds (five offensive), but his sterling effort was simply not enough to earn the Tigers a victory.
In addition to outshooting LSU from the field and at the line, Florida outrebounded their opponent 30-29. The Tigers committed 10 turnovers in the first half but just one in the second, forcing the Gators to cough up the ball on one more occasion over the course of the evening (12). UF also outscored LSU 36-32 in the paint and 24-10 off the bench.
Florida will once again have a nice break before playing two games over the course of three days. The Gators will travel to Ole Miss on Thursday for a 7 p.m. game (ESPN2) before hosting Mississippi State on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network).
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press