After a tough loss to Tennessee in the game before, many people doubted the Florida men’s basketball team could get a win at home against a strong LSU Tigers team led by forward Ben Simmons, who came into the game averaging 20.1 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.
However, the Gators would prove their “haters” wrong in a strong 68-62 victory over the Tigers on Saturday afternoon in the O’Connell Center. Dorian Finney-Smith and Justin Leon led Florida in scoring with 14 points each. Leon also led the team in rebounding, pulling in nine boards in arguably his best performance on the season.
LSU’s Ben Simmons led the offense for the Tigers, putting up 28 points, 17 rebounds and five assists before fouling out of the game with 14 seconds left. Surprisingly, despite winning, the Gators were outrebounded by the Tigers, 50-38, but Florida’s 32 points in the paint would be their key to success.
Two Dorian Finney-Smith shots, including an “and one” started the game for the Gators, giving them a 5-0 lead, as a ferocious crowd of 11,350 roared behind them. A rare jump shot from Ben Simmons would put the Tigers on the board and end Florida’s run. Simmons even made sure to stare down the Rowdy Reptiles as his shot fell through the basket. They’d later get back at Simmons by chanting, “76ers” at the true freshman and potential number one overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Going into the first television timeout, the Gators found themselves up 11-6, knocking down four of their first seven shots, three of those coming from Finney-Smith.
A big reason the Gators were able to sustain their early lead was their ability to dominate the boards. At the second television timeout, with 11:12 left to play in the first half, Florida found itself out rebounding LSU 13-7, including seven offensive boards. Along with their strong rebounding, a statistic they rank 16th in the nation, the Gators ran an effective full court press in the first half, limiting the Tiger’s ability to set up their half-court offense.
Despite going 0-12 from downtown in the first half, the Gators found themselves leading 34-31 going into the half. Florida entered the double bonus with 4:03 left to go, but its season long problem at the charity stripe continued. In the first 20 minutes, the Gators went 6 of 16 from the free throw line, good for 38%. The Tigers closed the half on a 7-1 run, and took a two board lead going into the locker room, winning the first half rebounding battle, 28-26. Although the Gators found themselves losing the overall battle on the boards, their 11 offensive rebounds in the first half helped Florida somewhat dominate the interior, leading to 22 points in the paint. Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators in first half scoring with nine points on 3 of 5 shooting, while a less familiar name to Gator fans, forward Justin Leon, led Florida in rebounding with six. Ben Simmons led the Tigers in first half points with 12, adding nine rebounds.
Neither team shot too well from the field in the first half, with the Gators shooting 38% and the Tigers shooting 33%. Florida never trailed in the first 20 minutes, with its largest lead coming at the 9:41 mark, when they led by 10 points.
To open the second half, the Gators went on an 11-8 run in the first five minutes. Unfortunately for Florida, during that run, Dorian Finney-Smith would go down with an injury, and head to the locker room. Finney-Smith would return to the bench for the Gators later in the half. With 12 minutes left to play in the game, a free throw to complete a Craig Victor three point play would bring LSU within two points, the closest they’d gotten since the start of the game. With 6:08 left, the Tigers would once again bring the game within two, but a 7-3 run would put the Gators back up by six with four minutes remaining in the contest. To follow the trend, after 11 straight points from Ben Simmons, LSU would bring the score within one point at 63-62 with 1:12 left in the game. And to complete the pattern, the Gators would close the game on a 5-0 run, in which they would knock down three of their last four free throws en route to a 68-62 victory.
The Gators finished with three players in double digit scoring, including Dorian Finney-Smith and Justin Leon with 14 points, and center John Egbunu, with 13 points and four rebounds. LSU’s downfall in this one included the fact that they let the Gators get into the double bonus in each of the halves, along with the fact that they turned the ball over 17 times, as opposed to Florida’s six.
The now 10-5 Gators will get two days off before taking on the Texas A&M Aggies (13-2) Tuesday onthe road. Florida has only played the Aggies seven times in program history, and have gone 5-2 against the Aggies with a +14.4 point differential.