Strong effort not enough vs. Gators

LSU can't overcome first-half swoon, falls to No. 17 Florida 76-64.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Balanced scoring helped No. 17-ranked Florida offset another poor shooting performance from 3-point range.

Erik Murphy scored 15 points, one of five players in double figures, and the Gators beat LSU 76-64 Saturday night and extended their home winning streak to 16 games.

Erving Walker added 12 points, and Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario chipped in 11 apiece for Florida, which made 7-of-21 shots from behind the arc.

No worries, though. The Gators (15-4, 3-1 SEC) shot 74 percent (20-of-27) from inside the 3-point line.

“I think we’re getting better at understanding how to play with each other,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Justin Hamilton led the Tigers with a career-high 27 points and 8 rebounds. The 7-footer made 13 of 22 shots, nearly as many as the rest of his team.

Hamilton helped LSU (12-7, 2-3) trim the lead to 68-60 with 3 minutes remaining, but the Gators pulled away down the stretch. Walker hit a 3 with 2:27 remaining – his first of the game – to make the score 73-60.

“We struggled from the 3-point line,” Walker said. “We haven’t done that many games, but that’s why we want to focus on defense and other things: To be able to still win when we’re not shooting the 3-ball well.”

Actually, the Gators have shot 33% or less from behind the arc in three of their four conference games – an odd trend for a team that leads the nation in 3-pointers.

Nonetheless, the ones they hit against LSU were game-changers.

Florida shot 64% in the first half and used a 15-4 run to build a big lead. The Gators essentially put the game away with a flurry of 3-pointers just after the break.

Rosario, Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin hit shots from behind the arc in a 3-minute span that pushed Florida’s lead to 53-38. LSU trimmed it under double digits several times, but couldn’t get enough defensive stops to pull within striking distance.

“We made runs,” Hamilton said. “We just needed to make the extra effort to keep it going. We kept on getting within eight and we just couldn’t break that barrier.”

The Tigers shot 44% from the field, but aside from Hamilton, the rest of the team made 15 of 41 shots. Anthony Hickey was the only other LSU player in double figures with 10 points.

“We competed and we had some shots that didn’t go down for us in the second half,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “We have to tip a hat to them. They’re explosive, they’re skilled and the guy who’s running the show is probably one of the best coaches in the country.”

LSU coach Trent Johnson offers freshman point guard Anthony Hickey some words of wisdom Saturday.

Florida was cold at the start. The Gators missed their first four 3-point attempts, but seemingly scored at will in the paint. They finished the first half with 20 points in the paint and led 38-26.

Florida pressed early and often, forcing LSU into 10 turnovers in the first 15 minutes. The Tigers settled down after halftime, but it was too little, too late.

Patric Young, dealing with tendinitis in his right ankle, had 8 points and 7 rebounds for the Gators, who improved to 10-0 in Gainesville this season.

Young and Murphy combined to make 9-of-10 shots, most of them from close range.

Florida needed their inside presence, especially with Walker and Boynton struggling from long range. Walker was 1-of-6 from behind the arc. Boynton was 0-for-4, ending his streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer at 34.

“He’ll start another one back up soon,” Walker said.

The Tigers are back on the road Wednesday when they travel to face No. 18 Mississippi State at 7 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.


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