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Florida 66, Arkansas 50: Gators clamp down to flay Hogs

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Skinning the Razorbacks may well get the Gators into the NCAA Tournament.

SEC Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Florida Gators got off to a poor start at the SEC Tournament on Thursday, sputtering out of the gates and trailing 17-9 eight minutes into play.

Then Keyontae Johnson and KeVaughn Allen hit back-to-back threes, and Florida finally fully joined the game in progress — and the Gators stayed in it for long enough to skin the Razorbacks, 66-50, in a game all about their own grind.

Johnson was the most obvious grinder for the Gators, putting up a career-high 20 points and adding 12 rebounds — six on the offensive end. But Allen did work, too, heating up after a slow start to eventually put up 17 points and close his career against his home-state team with a seventh win in eight tries.

And Kevarrius Hayes had eight points and seven boards, and tangled with Daniel Gafford (15 points, six rebounds) often enough to prevent him from having a huge night. And Andrew Nembhard had eight assists and two steals despite a poor shooting day that saw half of his six points come on a late dagger three. And Jalen Hudson rebounded from an awful first half in which he committed two quick fouls and rode the pine to chip in seven points. And Dontay Bassett had six points off the bench.

And, and, and, and: Florida, in this game, was more than the sum of its parts, playing above its head despite Nembhard and Hudson and Noah Locke going 3-for-20 from the floor. Their 18 offensive rebounds nearly matched their 21 makes; their 12 turnovers ended up not being fatal because of strong transition defense. Arkansas scored just 22 points after halftime, and just 33 over the game’s final 31:15, as Florida played tight, tough defense against a team with some potent shooters and a perpetual mismatch in Gafford.

And all that probably means that Florida is destined for the NCAA Tournament, with 18 wins and 10 of them against the toughest SEC in a hot minute.

But the Gators still have a rubber match to play against LSU on Friday.

And if they play like they did today, they may have some more noise to make in Nashville.