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Florida 71, Texas A&M 62: Gators get in gear after slow start

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Another somnambulent Saturday afternoon? Nah. The Gators woke up before that nightmare was complete.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team sure doesn’t seem to like playing at noon.

The good news on this Saturday? Instead of going to overtime or losing, as it did in previous home nooners against Georgia and Vanderbilt, Florida recovered from a long lull against the Texas A&M Aggies midway through the second half, and pulled away late for a 71-62 win that keeps the Gators in the top spot in the SEC.

Florida built a double-digit lead in the first half, but would see it sliced to just three points by halftime, and gave it up entirely early in the second half. But A&M never led by more than four points, and the Gators responded to that lead with a 12-2 run, and never led their regained edge shrink to fewer than three points over the last nine minutes of play.

Justin Leon was the Gators’ unlikely offensive leader on the afternoon, finishing one point shy of his career high with 18 points, and John Egbunu stepped up for his first double-double — 11 points and 10 rebounds — of the 2016-17 season. That, and a combined 23 points from Canyon Barry and Chris Chiozza (1-for-5 from the field, 8-for-10 on the line, and five assists) off the bench, compensated for a woeful day from the Gators’ other three starters: KeVaughn Allen, Kasey Hill, and Devin Robinson went 5-for-18 from the floor, and scored just 15 points combined, with Allen and Hill also combining for seven turnovers.

But defense, more than anything, carried the Gators on this day. Florida forced 20 Texas A&M turnovers, getting 10 of them as steals, and held the Aggies to slightly worse shooting percentages their their own underwhelming ones. Despite allowing 13 offensive rebounds, Florida gave up just 13 second-chance points, and fouled just 12 times, allowing the Aggies to shoot only 11 free throws.

The nine-point win breaks Florida’s streak of wins by double-digit margins, if barely — but it also brings the Gators to double-digit SEC wins for the first time since 2013-14, and assures Florida of no less than a tie for the lead in the SEC entering next week.

That season, of course, brought Florida’s last SEC championship.