With nearly a full week of rest to regain composure and refocus after closing the regular season with three losses in its last six games, the Florida (24-6, 14-4 SEC) men’s basketball team tips off competition in the SEC Tournament Friday afternoon against the Louisiana State Tigers (19-11, 9-9 SEC).
Florida clinched the honor of the top seed by earning the program’s sixth regular season conference title — the fifth under head coach Billy Donovan. The Gators last won the SEC Tournament in 2007. It was their third tournament title in a row en route to a second national championship.
Although the team has struggled down the stretch, the Gators’ strong defensive efforts have remained a constant. Florida has held its opponents to under 60 points in 21 of 30 total games this season, including 13 of its 18 SEC contests. UF’s scoring margin of +18.8 points ranks first in the country, while 53.2 points per game weighs in at third in the NCAA. Forcing turnovers and converting them into points has helped keep the team out of close games for most of the year, forcing an average of 14.2 turnovers a game and outscoring foes 514-322 off such opportunities.
Offensive inconsistency has plagued Florida throughout close games. Held scoreless for the final seven and a half minutes against Kentucky in a 61-57 loss Saturday, the Gators slid to 0-3 in games decided by less than three points in the 2012-2013 season.
Gators coach Billy Donovan says the team needs to step up the intensity in important scenarios, particularly in situations when the game is on the line.
Florida guard Kenny Boynton leads the team in scoring, accounting for 12.5 points of the team’s average of 72.0. Boynton and teammates Erik Murphy, Patric Young and Mike Rosario each average in double figures in point production. UF leads the conference in field goal percentage, shooting .485 percent and eclipsing .500 percent in 12 games.
The Tigers are seeded ninth in the SEC Tournament, granted another shot to take down the Gators courtesy of squeaking out a 68-63 victory over Georgia on Thursday. Junior forward Shavon Coleman started the game and finished one point shy of a career-high, netting 24 points and an astounding 9 of 11 shooting performance from the field.
LSU can match most SEC contenders shot for shot, averaging 71.3 points per game, but they surrender 68.8 points per game on the defensive end. The Tigers’ average of 14.8 turnovers per contest, coupled with a weak rebounding margin of 0.6, have stunted the team’s success at times over the course of the year. Playing to the level of its opponents, LSU is no stranger to close games. In games decided by a margin of five points or less, the Tigers are 8-3.
Florida and LSU met just once this season, resulting in a 74-52 win for the Orange and Blue on the road in Baton Rouge in January. The victory was highlighted by a 20-point effort from senior Kenny Boynton and a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds for forward Will Yeguete.
UF has notched four straight wins against LSU, but trail convincingly in the all-time series by a gap of 41-60, dropping two of 10 games in the SEC Tournament against the Tigers.
Tip off of Friday’s conference clash in Nashville is slated for 1pm. Coverage begins at 12:25 on ESPN Radio 850/900 and on our sister station Country 103-7 the Gator.