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LSU 84, Florida 82: Tigers feast inside, hold off furious Gators rally

Florida hung tough with LSU for more than a half in Baton Rouge. Then the Tigers leaned on the Gators — and a spirited rally fell just short.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators started hot and competed well against the LSU Tigers in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Tuesday night.

But in the second half, for a long stretch, LSU turned all but unstoppable inside, and the Gators couldn’t match the Tigers’ production — and they also couldn’t turn a furious rally into a full-on comeback, dropping a 84-82 decision that felt like it could have been a second straight big win and missed going to overtime by less than a tenth of a second.

Six Tigers scored in double figures, led by Emmitt Williams’s 19 points, and LSU made 27 of 47 two-pointers (57 percent) and collected 15 offensive rebounds, controlling the glass and the game for much of the second half thanks to yeoman’s work from players like Marlon Taylor (six offensive boards) and Darius Days (four).

Still, while LSU led by 11 with 3:24 to play, Florida would have sent the game to an extra session had a Keyontae Johnson lay-in at the buzzer beaten the clock.

The Gators scored 20 points in that final 3:24, getting two threes from both Johnson (16 points, nine rebounds) and Noah Locke (16 points, four threes) and recording two steals before forcing a turnover on an LSU in-bounds play with 0.5 seconds left.

And then Mike White — lauded often for his excellent play-calling on inbounds efforts on the baseline — drew up another dazzler, getting Johnson wide open at the rim with a screen just under the foul line.

But Johnson leapt to finish and let the ball go just as the red light on the backboard glowed, dooming the Gators to a second SEC loss in a building that has seen multiple fantastic finishes go LSU’s way this month.

If Florida had scored as it did in that final flurry all night, it might have been able to avoid its ultimate fate. The Gators were 7-for-25 from distance before that run, though, and shot just 11 free throws — just more than than a third of LSU’s 31, though the Gators committed only five more personal fouls (21) than the Tigers (16). Johnson and Locke only cracked double digits in points in that last stretch, as did Andrew Nembhard — who needed 16 shots to score 15 points, and missed all but one of his seven threes, but did add 10 assists for a second career double-double.

And Kerry Blackshear looked like a lesser version of himself, taking just seven shots and generating only four free throws less than 24 hours after reportedly suffering significantly from a stomach virus on a trip to Baton Rouge that was extended by mechanical trouble. His 15 points came efficiently, thanks partly to two early threes, but he appeared a step slower than on most nights, and was outworked by Tigers and teammates (Johnson and Scottie Lewis especially) alike on the boards.

A two-point loss to LSU may just be a rite of passage for the rest of the SEC this year: This was the Tigers’ fifth consecutive SEC game to be decided by five or fewer points, and could have been a second overtime contest in three games. For Florida, this is unlikely to be a bad loss.

But it could’ve been a big win — one that both looked good on a resume and vindicated a team that fought adversity and a game foe and prevailed.

And on this night, that was not to be.