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Florida 71, Alabama 53: Gators control the Tide behind Andrew Nembhard’s career day

Florida holding a significant win wire to wire might turn some heads. Its star freshman did that in the game.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

When Andrew Nembhard has it going — really has it going — it feels like the game flows through him, and that everything happens at his pace and on his whim.

Against Alabama on this Saturday, in Florida’s 71-53 win over the Crimson Tide, Nembhard had it going like he never has before as a Gator.

Florida’s freshman point guard scored a career-high 21 points on a perfect nine-for-nine performance from the field that featured midrange jumpers, finishes at the rim and through traffic, and threes that aren’t in his wheelhouse.

And no, he didn’t do a lot of the distributing that he often does on this day, finishing with just two assists — as many as Jalen Hudson (on a scintillating no-look cross-body pass from the top of the arc, mind) and Isaiah Stokes had combined — on Florida’s final two baskets.

But given the way Florida defended and drove in this game, it didn’t matter that the Gators had just 11 assists on their 27 makes.

The Gators led from the first minute onward — on a Nembhard jumper, natch — and did not allow a point until nearly six minutes into the game. They also kept Alabama from making a significant run at that lead — which mostly resided in double digits — until the second half by forcing the Tide into bad shots and long threes and keeping offensive rebounds to a minimum. (Keyontae Johnson’s 14-point, 13-rebound performance had a lot to do with that.)

And Alabama’s inability to make any progress at the line, where it made five of 19 free throws, left that lead to grow slowly, with Florida’s own 11-for-14 performance preventing any erosion.

And when that run did come, with Alabama slashing a 17-point lead down to eight with a 10-1 run with just over 10 minutes to play, Florida merely shrugged it off, allowing just nine more points in regulation and getting almost as many points (eight) from Nembhard alone.

The win gets Florida back to .500 in SEC play, a mark that might well be good enough to get the Gators into the NCAA Tournament if it can be maintained over the final three weeks of the regular season.

And if Nembhard and the rest of his valiant band of brothers play like they did today over those three weeks, that seems very possible.