Florida outlasts West Virginia in Jimmy V Classic, 66-56
By DENIS P. GORMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK (AP) — After earning what coach Mike White called the “biggest win thus far in a very early season,” Florida is reveling.
The Gators knocked off West Virginia, 66-56, in the second game of the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
KeVaughn Allen scored a game-high 19 points to lead Florida, and while he was the only Gator to reach double-figure scoring, it was enough. Florida won its third game in its last five starts and improved to 5-3.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, meanwhile, spoke quietly.
The message behind his words could not have been louder. Or clearer.
“We have some guys who need to grow up, and if they don’t do it then I can’t have them around,” he said. And while he did not mention players by name, he said he has “three or four guys who continually do things they’re not capable of doing.” And, he added, they “pout” when they are criticized.
Asked if he was concerned his team could be upset by disillusioned players, Huggins said, “I think I can fix it. I’ve fixed it before. And when I can’t fix it, I cut it out.”
The loss snapped West Virginia’s four-game winning streak. The Mountaineers fell to 5-3. Chase Harler led West Virginia with 11 points.
“We knew we had to come out and just match their intensity just to give us a chance to win the ballgame,” Allen said.
Despite being outscored 14-4 in the final 7:25 of the first half, Florida went into halftime with a 30-27 lead. The Gators never trailed until Logan Routt drove the lane for a one-handed dunk with 16:39 left in the second half.
Florida responded with a 14-2 run in a span of 5:57 to turn a 31-30 deficit to a 44-33 lead. Keyontae Johnson’s driving baseline two-handed jam and Andrew Nembhard ‘s 3 on consecutive possessions highlighted the run and forced Bob Huggins to call a timeout.
The break did not slow the Gators and when play resumed Allen drilled a straightaway 3 and Deaundrae Ballard made a free throw to extend the lead to 15.
“Our guys’ attention to detail in (the 1-3-1 zone) was pretty good, and we hadn’t played a lot of it,” White said. “We got off to a pretty good start by getting a couple stops and we just rode it.”
Florida would lead by as many as 16 after Locke made two free throws with 5:15 left. The Gators would make 11 free throws in the final 2:24 to close out the game.
“Hopefully that gives us some confidence moving forward because we’ve struggled from the foul line_and we struggled from the foul line again tonight until the end,” White said. “Hopefully this gets us going a little bit to settle us in at the foul line.”
FLORIDA: The known is Florida’s defense. Entering Tuesday night’s nationally televised game the Gators ranked second in the SEC in points allowed (62.4 points per game) and third in steals (9.0 per game). The unknown was how potent they could be offensively. Even though the Gators were averaging 71.7 points per game, that number is somewhat misleading due to a 98-point outing against North Florida on Nov. 27. In their remaining six games, however, Florida has averaged just 67.3 points.
WEST VIRGINIA: ‘Live by the 3, die by the 3,’ is not the Mountaineers’ motto for the 2018-19 season, but it might as well be. In West Virginia’s five wins prior to Tuesday night it shot 38.2 percent from behind the arc, but only connected on 29.3 percent in its two losses. Against Florida, the Mountaineers missed 16 of 23 from 3.
FLORIDA: Hosts No. 10 Michigan State Saturday.
WEST VIRGINIA: Hosts Pittsburgh Saturday.
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