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Florida 73, LSU 64: Finally, the Gators show some steel

Florida nearly let a big lead evaporate again. But only nearly.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Florida Gators started strong, got sped up in a first half marked by pockmarked defense, trailed at halftime, and rallied with a spurt out of the gate in the second half before their foes came back just as hard.

Yeah, this one followed that familiar script.

But the new development on this Wednesday night, in a 73-64 win over LSU, was Florida finding a way to win despite a second-half swoon.

Jalen Hudson led the Gators with 18 points and nine rebounds, but Florida got seven or more points from six different scorers, and a combined 27 points on 16 shots from Keith Stone (15 points) and Egor Koulechov (12) on a night when efficiency without threes proved possible. Florida shot 52 percent from the field, and was 21-for-34 inside the arc, despite a 6-for-18 performance from distance.

And it was drives and midrange shots — from Hudson, from KeVaughn Allen, from Stone, from Mike Okauru — that kept Florida from sinking down the stretch. Florida made just one three over the final 16:23 of play, getting the lion’s share of its points in the second half inside the arc, and took back the lead after LSU twice edged ahead by a point on two Stone free throws and a long two from Hudson.

Florida also managed to keep LSU waterbug Tremont Waters largely in check apart from a brief stretch in the second half, holding him to nine points on 15 shots and a 1-for-9 night from three, and harassing him into seven turnovers. Brandon Sampson exploded for 17 points off the bench for the Tigers, but no other LSU player scored in double figures, and the Tigers needed 28 attempts to make their nine threes.

Florida’s recipe for success on this night — forcing an opponent to win without its best player firing on all cylinders, and scoring points inside — is not an exotic one for basketball, just for this team of shooters and undersized forwards.

But it made for a savory win. And Florida would do to try to hew to the instructions that proved effective tonight when the souffle goes sideways in the future.