Every time Florida opened up a lead on Saturday against LSU, it seemed like Ben Simmons — who appeared to be every bit as good as his hype — was there to shrink it. A three-point play here, a key assist there: Simmons did it all for the Tigers on Saturday.
But he didn't do enough — and Florida did, gritting out a 68-62 win that restores some balance to a season threatening to go sideways.
Simmons was this game's unquestioned star, pouring in 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds without appearing especially dominant and dishing an array of brilliant passes that deserved more than the four assists he recorded. He also had eight turnovers, more by himself than Florida handed over as a team, and committed five fouls, the last one finishing a two-turnover, two-foul final minute for the Tigers phenom.
If the Gators had a star in this game, it was Justin Leon, the junior college transfer who has been asked to play big minutes in recent games thanks to foul trouble for Dorian Finney-Smith and injuries that have limited Devin Robinson and DeVon Walker. Leon's 14 points tied Finney-Smith for a Florida high on the day, and his nine rebounds led all Gators. And at 6-for-8 from the floor, he was the Gators' most efficient scoring option, too, sinking two of his three triples.
Apart from Leon's surprising output, much of this game went as expected: Florida struggled to make shots, and to score when it did not have live-ball turnovers to feast on or Finney-Smith to soak up possessions, but sterling defense and fine care taken with the ball kept the Tigers from making runs.
The other pleasant departure from previous patterns, though, was Florida's performance at the line down the stretch. The Gators made nine of their final 10 free throws after a woeful 6-for-16 performance at the charity stripe in the first half, and Egbunu made four massive freebies in the final two minutes to seal the game.
And this was a wire-to-wire win, too: After Finney-Smith opened the game on a personal 5-0 run, LSU never even tied it up. Simmons, who scored or assisted on LSU's final 15 points, just didn't have enough help from his teammates, none of whom had more than 10 points or made more than four shots.
Florida moves to 10-5 on the season with the victory, and to 2-1 in SEC play.