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Alabama 86, Florida 71: Tide roll behind physical drivers and defense

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Alabama flexed its muscles on Tuesday night. The Gators were left struggling to push their own bar.

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

On the night Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith was awarded the Heisman Trophy — ahead of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, and partly for his efforts in helping the Tide beat the Gators in the 2020 SEC Championship Game — Alabama’s men’s basketball team treated Florida to a repeat of what happened in Atlanta:

They rolled.

The Crimson Tide put five scorers in double figures and were never really threatened after a short spurt out of halftime, winning 86-71 to move to 3-0 in conference play.

And for Florida, this game was a reminder that there is much to improve on if it is going to reach the heights that were accessible with Keyontae Johnson on hand.

Johnson’s absence — and foul trouble that limited Scottie Lewis to a glorified pair of cameos — left Florida with few defenders capable of staying with Alabama’s Herb Jones, John Petty, and Jaden Shackleford, a trio of scorers who combined for 44 points and drove relentlessly to the bucket. That threesome was also aided by James Rojas, who backed down smaller Florida defenders for most of his 15 points, and Keon Ellis, whose 16 points off the bench came largely in transition and whose eight rebounds tied Florida’s Colin Castleton for the most on the night.

After both teams traded the lead for much of the first half, Alabama built a seven-point advantage entering intermission. And when Florida burst from the gate with a 7-0 run to erase that lead, Alabama answered with a 10-2 run before the first four minutes elapsed — one that would eventually turn into a 20-4 surge and all but put the Gators away.

Florida couldn’t match Alabama’s success driving against the Tide, with Anthony Duruji, Tre Mann, and Noah Locke each taking 11 shots and combining to make just 11 on the night, and the Alabama bigs kept Castleton’s 13 points from being a bigger total by challenging him often at the rim. Florida made just 18 of 48 shots inside the arc, and subtracting Castleton’s six makes on 11 takes leaves an even more gruesome 12 for 37 night inside by the rest of the Gators.

Tyree Appleby did score 18 points, a new Florida high, off the bench, but his spark was far too little and too late to matter. The Gators ended up equaling Alabama’s 15 offensive boards with 15 of their own and committed just one more turnover (14) than the Tide (13), too, producing a box score where the difference — Alabama getting better shots inside the arc and sinking more of them — is somewhat hard to scry, even if the game as televised made plain the Tide’s physical edges.

If Florida doesn’t shore up its two-point defense and improve its shot selection inside — things that would be far easier to correct with the talents of Johnson, sorely missed on this night, suiting up — then it is liable to see other SEC foes attempt Alabama’s successful bully ball over the course of this season.

On this Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, the Gators found at least one way of responding to such efforts that they should not attempt again.