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Florida 81, Arkansas 72: Gators ease by Hogs on road

Florida pulled away before a hostile road crowd.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Little Rock at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Even really good teams don’t generally go into Bud Walton Arena and beat Arkansas decisively.

On Thursday, Florida did.

The Gators got 21 points from KeVaughn Allen — playing his first collegiate game in his home state, and responding to a hostile Arkansas crowd that showered him with boos with five threes — and 17 from Devin Robinson, including a spectacular dunk off an in-bounds pass, and built a lead in the first half that they would never relinquish in a 81-72 win.

Florida trailed 14-11 in the early goings, as Arkansas guard Daryl Macon started hot, scoring six of those first 14 points. But the Gators responded by calmly taking control of the game, building a lead that stretched to 10 points in the first half and settled at nine at halftime.

In the second half, Arkansas started hot again, answering two Florida turnovers with a 8-1 run on the period’s first few possessions and slicing the lead to just three points. The Gators’ response? A three-point play by Robinson off another inbounds, thanks to an Arkansas foul — and enough points and defense down the stretch to never let that lead shrink to fewer than five points for the rest of the night.

Florida led by 16 points with just over a minute to play before Arkansas made a furious and futile rally in the dying throes of the contest, and generally controlled this game despite John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes struggling to stay on the court, jointly accruing nine fouls in their 38 combined minutes.

But both bigs were potent defensively, where they and Robinson combined for five blocks, while also holding Arkansas center Moses Kingsley to 5-for-15 shooting that made his 13-point, 13-rebound performance far more efficient. Hayes also had one of his best nights as a finisher, converting five shots into 10 points. And Kasey Hill had one of his finer games after a slow start, punctuating a 10-point, six-assist night by punching a dunk home late in the game.

Florida shot just 44.8 percent from the floor, 34.6 percent from three, and 57.1 percent from the foul line — a 12-for-21 night recalled past years’ woes there. Yet the Gators still scored 1.13 points per possession, thanks largely to Robinson, Hayes, and a superb performance on the offensive boards, where Egbunu and Hayes combined for nine of the team’s 16 rebounds.

And though Arkansas yanked down 12 offensive boards of its own, that translated to just 26.3 percent of available caroms, a rate well under the Hogs’ season average of 38.0 percent, and one that helped shut down an offense reliant on second shots.

Arkansas will get a second shot at Florida, but not until March, when the Gators welcome the Hogs to Gainesville for Senior Night.

By then, thanks to wins like this one, Florida should be planning to compete in the SEC Tournament, and position itself for an NCAA Tournament run.