The Florida Gators have made a habit of playing erratic ball throughout the 2019-20 season.
The LSU Tigers have made a habit of playing every game close to the end.
Neither trend held on Wednesday, as Florida played one of its most complete games — and became the only team to fully tame the Tigers on the year, with an 81-66 win that should cement the Gators as an NCAA Tournament participant.
Keyontae Johnson scored a career-high 25 points — 17 while missing just one shot in the first half — and Scottie Lewis had his own career-high 18 points, as Florida slashed and kicked its way to a vivisection of LSU’s defense. Florida went 25-for-41 on two-point field goals, with Johnson and Lewis combining for 15 of those makes, and spent what seemed like all 40 minutes either blowing by LSU defenders or, in the second half, working the ball around the perimeter for seven of their nine threes on the night.
And LSU was never able to fully execute its typical gameplan of pounding the ball inside and getting threes in bunches. Emmitt Williams and Trendon Watford combined for 40 points, most in the paint, but the Tigers had just seven offensive rebounds after claiming 15 in the first meeting between these teams this season, and of their six threes (on 23 tries), five might have been from 23 feet or further.
Florida committed just five turnovers while holding LSU to its second-lowest point output in SEC play and handing the Tigers their first 15-point loss of the season. And the Gators added a blowout to what had been a incredibly tightly-contested series, with the previous four games in the rivalry decided by a combined 11 points — and two of those going to overtime.
Andrew Nembhard scored 14 points in the second half to join Johnson — who also had 11 rebounds and five assists — and Lewis as a tertiary scorer on a night when fellow starters Kerry Blackshear and Noah Locke combined for just 11 points.
But it was Johnson and Lewis that got the flashiest points on the night, especially on a trio of alley-oops.
We see you, Keyontae Johnson pic.twitter.com/UQrxCSCtLt— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 27, 2020
OH MY LAWD SCOTTATHAN LEWIS pic.twitter.com/5pyhpv6WFx— Lucas Dolengowski (@LDolengowski) February 27, 2020
Freshman big Jason Jitoboh also joined Johnson and Lewis in posting a career high in points, with six off the bench in the first half.
For Florida, this win — plausibly a Quadrant 1 victory should LSU recover from a 2-5 stretch — should serve as a clear sign that these Gators are playing well enough and have done enough to make the NCAA Tournament without much sweating on Selection Sunday. While it might not be enough to vault the Gators far, given that they entered the day projected as a No. 9 seed by most bracketologists, it should have them well removed from the bubble with just three regular-season games to play.
Given how Florida is playing, too, that seeding may be a major factor in whether they can make a dark-horse run in March Madness.