Aaron Epps vs. Texas A&M (USA TODAY SPORTS)

GAME PREVIEW | No. 25 Florida at LSU

Tigers tangle with their first ranked foe of the season when the Gators come to the PMAC

No. 25 Florida (14-5, 5-2 SEC) at LSU (9-9, 1-6 SEC)

When:8 p.m. (CT) Wednesday

Where:PMAC

TV/Radio:SEC Network | The Eagle (98.1-FM, Baton Rouge)

Series:The Tigers have built a 63-44 edge over the years, with the Tigers dominating matchups in Baton Rouge 35-13.

Last meeting: LSU held on for dear life in a 96-91 triumph in Baton Rouge last Feb. 27 to snap a three-game losing streak. The Gators nabbed a 68-62 decision in Gainesville earlier last season.

Last time out: Arkansas 99, LSU 86; Vanderbilt 68, Florida 66

Tiger trends

A troubling stat continues to haunt LSU: The Tigers have attempted 131 free throws in seven SEC games, four fewer than opponents have made. It doesn’t help, either, that LSU is shooting just 61.8% from the stripe in conference play after a dismal 50% (15-for-30) performance at Arkansas. …  The Gators are the first ranked foe LSU is facing this season. Under fifth-year coach Johnny Jones, the Tigers are 4-3 at home against ranked teams, 6-10 overall. … Brandon Sampson bounced back from playing a season-0low 12 minutes at Auburn by scoring 15 points against Arkansas, his most in an SEC game this season. His three 3-pointers were also the sophomore’s most in a league game. … Duop Reath is 13-for-19 from the field in the last two games but he missed seven of 10 free throws against the Razorbacks. … Antonio Blakeney’s streak of double-digit games reached eight with 14 at Arkansas. That said he is just 10-for-25 from the floor in two games since tweaking his ankle late in a loss to Alabama. … Skylar Mays’ 22 points were his most of his freshman season. Just as impressive were 6 assists (most in an SEC game) and only two turnovers in 32 minutes against the Hogs’ pressure defense. He is now producing 10.7 points a game in league play. … Fellow freshman Wayde Sims also shined against the Razorbacks with 9 points on 4-of-4 shooting and only one turnover in 20 minutes. … Arkansas’ 25-for-35 shooting day marked the most makes and attempts by an LSU opponent this season. The Hogs were also the third league foe to hit 50% from outside the 3-poitn arc against the Tigers (8-for-16). … In four of six league losses, LSU foes have scored 90 points or more.

Breaking down the Gators

Florida has dropped two straight games since opening SEC play 5-0. Those two setbacks are by four and two points. In fact, Gators only have one loss not in single digits this season – an 84-74 loss against Duke in New York City on Dec. 6. The other four defeats are by 16 total points … Florida has forced 18 turnovers or more in four league games. Opponents average 16.4 giveaways against UF this season. … Seven Gators have led the team in scoring at least once this season and none did so back-to-back until transfer Canyon Barry did in the 17th and 18th games. Allen transferred from Charleston, where he twice played against the Tigers – scoring 11 points in 2014 in a loss and 19 last season in a victory. … … KeVaughn Allen supplied 29 points in the Gators’ loss at Vanderbilt, his season0best. He was 10-for-19 from the field. … Florida’s bench notched only 8 points against the Commodores, a season-low. … Gators’ big man John Egbunu dumped in 22 points against LSU. Senior forward Leon Hill produced 14 in the win in Gainesville over the Tigers. … Florida connected on 8-of-26 3-pointers in the loss to Vandy, a less-than-spectacular 30.8%. But it was a major upgrade from a loss at South Carolina when the Gators were 0-for-17. Florida was also just 15-for-28 from the foul line in that 57-53 loss. …Vanderbilt’s 10 treys were the most the Gators have surrendered this season. … 

Florida players to watch

G Kasey Hill: Though the former high-profile recruit has evolved into more of a facilitator this season, he is the one Gator with the most experience against the Tigers, which means he knows how to attack the various weak spots in LSU’s defense. The junior has notched 4 assists or more in eight of the last nine games, including 7 against Vandy on Saturday. Hill notched 16 points against the Tigers in the high-scoring affair at the PMAC last season.

G Canyon Barry: The senior transfer is coming off the bench for the Gators and that could be problematic for LSU if the streaky sharpshooter enters the game against a defense that has been worn down and exposed. He has missed his last eight 3-point tries, but the Tigers’ defense tends to be a cure for a lot of outside shooters. Barry has scored in double figures 13 times this season and could be poised to add to that total.

Projected starting lineups

LSU

G Antonio Blakeney (16.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 31 assists, 47.3% FG, 29-80 3-pt. FG)

G Skylar Mays (7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 33-41 FT)

G Jalyn Patterson (6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 26 steals)

F Duop Reath (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 54.4% FG, 34 blocks)

F Aaron Epps (6.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 47.3% FG, 8-20 3-pt. FG)

Off the bench: G Brandon Sampson (10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 48.6% FG, 24-72 3-pt. FG), F Wayde Sims 5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 48.8% FG), C Elbert Robinson (2.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 59.1% FG)

Tigers stats

Florida

G Kasey Hill (9.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 38 steals, 42.4% FG)

G KeVaughn Allen (14 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 45.2% FG, 40-103 3-pt. FG, 86.4% FT)

C John Egbunu (7.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 29 blocks, 46.4% FG)

F Devin Robinson (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 50% FG, 78.1% FT)

F Justin Leon (6.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg43.6% FG, 22-53 3-pt. FG, 76.2% FT)

Off the bench: G Canyon Barry (12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 42.3% FG, 86.7% FT), F Kevarrius Hayes (5.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 24 blocks, 58.6% FG), G Chris Chiozza (5.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 76.9% FT)

Gators stats

Matchup to watch

The Tigers' big men vs. Egbunu and Leon: LSU has guards to match up with just about any foe, and a big part of this game’s outcome will be settled in the backcourt. But to beat the Gators, the Tigers need big games from Reath, Epps and a combination of Sims, Robinson and Brian Bridgewater. Egbunu isn’t a huge scoring threat, but if he finds light resistance in the paint he can be, as evidenced by his 22-point outburst against the Tigers last February. He is also a force to reckon with on defense as a shot-blocker and rebounder. Likewise, Leon won’t wow anybody offensively, but he will produce if not checked. Look for points in the paint from the frontcourt to be a telling number in this game.  

Keys to the game

The Gators are a talented and deep blend of the last three teams LSU has faced and lost to: A crew that focuses on defense and making every possession, every shot a chore. As much as the Tigers want to force up-tempo, they have to stay patient against a gritty Gators’ defense that creates turnovers in the halfcourt as well as anybody in the SEC. Mays, Jalyn Patterson and Branden Jenkins bear the brunt of that responsibility, but Blakeney and Sampson have to hit shots when they spot up and get the ball in rhythm. Although Egbunu and Leon have to be tended with, Reath should be the most dangerous offensive threat in the lane and he needs to draw attention and contact from the Gators’ big men and either make free throws or kick the ball out to shooters, including Epps and Sims, who need to take advantage of their athleticism on face-up jump shots.

Up next | LSU at Texas Tech, 1 p.m. Saturday


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