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Florida 66, West Virginia 56: Gators leave Mountaineers gasping in Garden

Florida played an ugly, suffocating brand of basketball on Tuesday night. It worked.

NCAA Basketball: Jimmy V Classic -West Virginia at Florida Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators did not play a pretty game of basketball on Tuesday.

But it was an effective one.

The Gators got 19 points from KeVaughn Allen, 20 turnovers from West Virginia, and just enough suffocation on defense to make up from a cold night from the field and the line in a 66-56 victory that was heavier on effort than execution.

That is a kind way of saying that neither team shot well for any extended stretch, and that the only runs that existed in this game were about a defense clamping down on the opposing offense for a spell. Florida’s spates of good play came midway through the first half and for much of the second, wrapping around a segment in which West Virginia erased all of what was a 13-point Florida lead shortly before halftime and took a one-point advantage shortly after intermission.

Florida responded to that with an extended 17-2 run, though, and never saw their lead slip to fewer than eight points afterward.

The Gators’ 33 percent shooting from the field and 6-for-20 performance from the arc were slightly better than the Mountaineers’ own 30 percent shooting from the field and 7-for-24 clip from distance, though. And Florida making just (“just”) 28 of its staggering 46 free throws — with every starter making at least two free throws and missing at least one — was actually a better showing than West Virginia going 11-for-20 from the line.

But that was okay for Florida on this night.

West Virginia was not about to get really hot — it needed a late flurry of makes from Chase Harler to get a single player in double figures, and saw frontliner Sagaba Konate foul out with four points and five turnovers to his name — and so the Gators’ lack of a second scorer behind Allen didn’t matter.

West Virginia could press Florida into some mistakes, but Allen committing four turnovers was the worst of that, and Andrew Nembhard’s two were well outweighed by his seven assists.

West Virginia, unlike some teams Florida will yet see, is nearly incapable of defending without fouling a lot, which gave the Gators enough free throws to make their poor percentage more of a frustration than a fatal flaw.

There will be other, better teams from power conferences that Florida plays this year in primetime games. But this one is likely headed to the NCAA Tournament — and Florida beat it, earning its first win over such a squad this year.

Another one, hulking Michigan State, comes to Gainesville on Saturday. The Gators may not be able to get a win in that game if they play like they did in this one.