UF's Andrew Nembhard eliminates LSU with game-winning shot
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- The Florida Gators men’s basketball game arrived into their matchup with LSU as the eighth seed in the SEC Tournament.
Although they were taking on the top-seeded Tigers, UF had confidence against LSU after taking them to overtimes in both their regular season matchups, winning one of those games.
With the possibility of creating a stronger case to make the NCAA Tournament, Florida stepped up to the challenge and won yet another nail-biter against the Tigers.
Powered by 36 combined points from true freshmen Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson, the Gators ended up winning 76-73 to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals.
"Big win for us," Mike White told reporters following the game. "Thought we played really well, as we have against those guys three times. Three great battles this year. I guess in battle number three we were able to do enough down the stretch to get to our 11th SEC win. It's pretty significant in a league that's as good as this league.
It's been a great year for this league top to bottom. LSU is one of the best teams in the country. Obviously a very big win. These two guys have been tremendous to coach thus far in their early careers. They've developed throughout the year. They've gotten better and better. They both exude accountability and toughness. Both of them were tough as nails today, made big plays down the stretch offensively and defensively.
Kevarrius Hayes was tremendous again. Gets better and better the latter part of his senior year. It's a good story. He's worked his butt off and deserves it. Jalen and KeVaughn stepped up for us as well.Naz Reid is a handful, to complement the rest of their guys, Tremont Waters.We did just enough to beat a very good team."
LSU looked like the better team to open up the game as they immediately jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first minute. A timeout by head coach Mike White gave a boost for the Gators as the team tied up the game behind a Jalen Hudson jumper and a KeVaughn Allen three-pointer.
A couple of shots in the paint by LSU’s Kavell Bigby-Williams, however, and some other contributions led to an 8-0 run for the Tigers. Florida’s inability to defend inside was a constant theme out of the gates as LSU had 26 points in the paint in the first half.
Even though Dontay Bassett connected on a couple of free throws, the Gators had struggles in this department for the first 20 minutes of game time. White’s group shot just three of eight from the line in the first half.
The Tigers propelled themselves to an 11-4 run to stretch their lead to 13 points, but UF did not let the game get out of hand and closed the first half on a good note.
A couple of baskets by Nembhard and buckets from four different Gators led to the team being down 35-25 going into halftime.
LSU managed to hold their double-digit advantage for the first five minutes of the second half, but Florida had a strong response to close the gap.
Jump-started by a ferocious dunk by Johnson, UF went on an 11-2 run to cut their deficit to just one point. The final ten minute of this matchup went back and forth as the two teams looked destined for their third overtime game of the season.
The Tigers extend their lead to five points after a jumper by Javonte Smart and a layup by Marlon Taylor. After a three-pointer by Nembhard and Hudson knocking down three of his four free throw attempts, however, Florida took its first lead of the game with 6:05 minutes remaining.
Naz Reid had a quick response for LSU as his dunk gave his team the lead once again. Reid, who had just 25 points in his previous two matchups with Florida, finished with 26 points on the day.
LSU held a three-point advantage over UF with just under four minutes to play, but Johnson drilled a triple to tie the game up. Allen and Hayes put the Gators up 66-63, which was followed by a pair of free throws and another basket in the paint by the Tigers.
This game continued to go down to the wire as Florida saw their lead turn into a tied ball game after a Reid three-pointer. The Gators went up by three points after free throws by Nembhard and Allen, but Reid connected on another triple to tie the game 73-73 with 14 seconds remaining.
Although Nembhard missed a free throw a few possessions earlier, the freshman guard made up for it with a clutch shot at the end of the game. After being fed the ball by Johnson at the top of the arc, Nembhard connected on a three-pointer to give Florida the 76-73 victory.
Nembhard finished the quarterfinals matchup with 20 points and six dimes, while Johnson had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Three other Gators — Allen, Hayes and Hudson — each put up 10 or more points for Florida.
"I was just driving and I see Naz come up to set a charge," Keyontae Johnson said. "In my head I was thinking what Coach White said: Play off two feet. Passed it to Andrew and he hit a big shot. I know he was going to hit it because he's been working hard every Sunday. I just had confidence in him. I'm glad he hit it.
"Originally that wasn't the play we drew up, but they got to a 1-3-1," Andrew Nembhard said. "We had to scramble. It was a good drive by Keyontae. Found me. I had to let it go. I'm happy it went down, for sure."
Florida had just 24 points in the paint versus LSU’s 48 points in that area of the court, but their ability to shoot from behind the arc and get to the free throw line was a key aspect of this game.
The Gators made it to line 26 total times and converted on 16 of those opportunities, and knocked down six triples in the second half.
On Saturday, UF will take on the winner of Auburn-South Carolina, which is currently underway. The Gators faced each of these teams one time in the regular season, losing both of those matchups against the Tigers and the Gamecocks.
No matter who they play, Florida will take the court at 1 p.m. tomorrow in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
Stay tuned to GatorsTerritory.