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Florida 57, Georgia 53: Gators come back, hold on for crucial win

A child led them.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Florida needed this one, and needed to dig deep to get it at Stegeman Coliseum, against a Georgia team that was eliciting one of the Gators' typically icy shooting nights. At halftime, with just 19 points to their name and a six-point deficit to make up, the Gators were staring at a second straight loss that could cripple their NCAA Tournament aspirations.

In the second half, KeVaughn Allen, Florida's steely freshman, barely blinked.

And so the Gators won, 57-53, and live to see another day.

Allen scored a game-high 19 points, 14 after halftime, and splashed in four threes, three of them in the final 13 minutes of play, to rescue Florida from what would have been a crushing defeat. Allen's first three of the second half touched off an 11-2 Gators run that flipped Georgia's largest lead of the night to what was Florida's largest lead of the night, and his final one broke a 47-47 tie and gave the Gators the lead for good.

Appropriately, Allen scored the game's final point, too — if only after missing a free throw right before it.

The Gators needed their star freshman on this night, because anything and everything else proved to be a struggle on offense. John Egbunu joined Allen in double figures, but had just 10 points — and no other Gator had more than the seven scored by Dorian Finney-Smith on 10 shots and by Kasey Hill on nine. Hill added five assists against just one turnover, but Chris Chiozza was nearly nonexistent, and Justin Leon had as many offensive rebounds (five) as points.

Fortunately, Florida also muzzled the Bulldogs, who shot a terrible 32.3 percent from the field, and made just 12 of 41 two-pointers. Eight threes on 21 tries helped keep Georgia in the game, especially late — three triples by Kenny Gaines, who led the Dawgs with 12 points, tied the game, cut Florida's lead to two, and sliced that lead to one in the final four minutes of play.

The victory won't help Florida that much in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, but it does help keep the Gators in the running for an easier path at the SEC Tournament. And it's much preferable to a loss, which would surely have dropped the Gators from the right side of the bubble to the outside of the fire in some bracketologists' eyes.

Instead, the Gators' way forward to a return to March Madness is slightly clearer.