Florida guard Zyon Pullin shoots over a LSU defender in the second half Tuesday at Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center. The Gators defeated the Tigers 82-80. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner]

Gators Escape Tigers at Home, 82-80

The Florida Gators dominated for the majority of its matchup Tuesday against LSU, but complacent play in the second half with a 20-point lead almost got ugly as Florida survived the Tigers 82-80 at the O’Connell Center.

“Just another Tuesday night in Gainesville baby,” Gators coach Todd Golden said.

Florida (17-7, 7-4 SEC)  secured its sixth win in the last seven games, and moves to 10 games over .500 in February for the first time since 2017.

Let’s Get Moving

Following a statement win over No. 12 Auburn Tigers 81-65 at home Saturday, Florida got out to a slow start against a different Tiger (12-12, 4-7).

However, junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. woke up the Gators by scoring 14 of his 21 points in the first half. From there, Florida caught fire, dropping almost 50 points in the half to dominate LSU.

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Florida shot a first half season-high 66.7% from the floor and collected 28 first-half points in the paint to LSU’s 14.

The Gators held LSU to 41.% shooting in the first half, making Florida’s defense look stellar by collecting 20 boards and 6-foot-11 freshman Alex Condon packed three shots.

However, the real tone setter came at the end of the half, as Clayton Jr. dribbled down LSU’s throat off a fast break with a one-handed slam, stretching Florida to a 37-26 lead that would get bigger going into intermission at 48-34.

 Zone Coverage Struggle

It seemed to be a similar trend in the second half, as Florida got straight back to business stretching into a 60-40 lead, but hit cruise control with LSU taking advantage after a timeout.

The Tigers switched from man-to-man defense to a tandem 2/3 and 1/3/1 zone defense in the second half to stop the bleeding, putting Florida in an uncomfortable flow offensively.

“Teams have to go zone against us,” grad-transfer forward Tyrese Samuel said. “That man-to-man is our bread-and-butter and that’s a way teams have tried to slow us down.”

LSU outscored the Gators 46-34 in the second half en route to tying the game at 78-all with 1:30 left.

“That’s on me,” Golden said. “I need to make sure we spend more time on those things in practice. We’ll address it before we head into Georgia on Saturday.”

Tight Finish

With Florida up 79-78, LSU went into a fast break after a missed layup from Samuel in an attempt to take a quick lead.

Zyon Pullin had others plans, cutting off LSU’s Jalen Cook for a diving steal and dishing the ball back to Samuel who lobbed a pass to Clayton Jr. under pressure for a tight layup, giving the Gators a 81-78 lead.

LSU marched right back down the court with a layup from guard Jordan Wright to get the Tigers to 81-80. From there, Condon picked up a foul and made his first free throw, but missed the second.

With nine seconds left and UF leading 82-80, Wright got the ball back for LSU in the open court but overran a layup, getting stuffed by the rim. He lunged back for the rebound, but the Gators were saved by the buzzer to escape by the skin of their teeth.

Up Next

Florida makes a return game against Georgia (14-10, 4-7) in Athens on Saturday at 1 p.m. on the SEC Network and ESPN Gainesville 98.1-FM/AM-850 WRUF. UF defeated Georgia 102-98 in overtime Jan. 27 at the O’Connell Center.

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