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Florida 68, Georgia 54: Gators snag crucial win in Classic City

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Behind Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke, the Gators rallied from another big deficit.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators are very capable of starting slow. The Georgia Bulldogs having a 19-6 lead at the 15:01 mark of Wednesday’s rivalry meeting between the teams was just more evidence of that.

But these Gators are also very capable of keeping an even keel in times of trouble, and even charging forth with the wind at their back. Florida’s 68-54 win over the Bulldogs was just the latest data point for that.

Keyontae Johnson had 18 points to lead all scorers, 11 rebounds to give him his eighth double-double of the year — most in a season by a Gator since Al Horford played in Gainesville — and three steals on the night. Noah Locke stroked three threes in the second half to score the majority of his 15 points in yet another game that saw a cold Florida start give way to a long stretch of Florida control.

The Gators whittled down Georgia’s first-half lead slowly but surely for most of the period, allowing just 11 points in that final 15:01 and using 6-0 and 10-0 stretches to cut the Dawgs’ lead to just two points at halftime.

And they didn’t blink in he second half. Georgia responded to Florida tying the game just out of halftime with a 6-0 run, but a 15-4 spree for the Gators put them up for the first time. Georgia blitzed back with another 6-0 run, so Florida responded with a 10-0 spurt that turned into the game-deciding 16-4 run.

Given that referees assessed a flagrant foul on Johnson for minimal contact on an alley-oop attempt that led to a hard fall — a call that helped Georgia score all four points in that 16-4 run — and robbed Dontay Bassett of a putback on questionable offensive interference call in the second half, this could have been an even more lopsided Florida win, too.

Even as it was, this serves as a second black eye for a Dawgs outfit that led the Gators by 22 in the second half in Gainesville and six in the second half in Athens and finishes 0-2 against its rival despite having likely No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards in the fold. And while Edwards torched Florida for 32 points in that first meeting, Scottie Lewis played excellent defense on him in this one, limiting him to just 14 points on 10 shots while scoring 11 points and collecting two assists and two blocks in his own right.

For Florida, this win is also massive for SEC Tournament seeding. Losses by Auburn and LSU on Wednesday allowed the Gators to slide up into a tie for second in the conference, and Florida owns a tiebreaker over the Tigers of the Plains, while Auburn owns one over LSU.

There’s still a final SEC game — against Kentucky, at home, on Saturday’s Senior Day — for the Gators to play. But in their final road test and penultimate conference contest, they passed an exam their closest peers were busy failing.