BATON ROUGE – LSU freshman Antonio Blakeney made eight-of-eight free throws in the final 28 seconds to cap a career scoring night of 32 points as the LSU men’s basketball team held off the Florida Gators, 96-91, Saturday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It marked the second 30-point game Blakeney has posted in the last seven games to go with a 31-point effort in a win over Mississippi State. The Sarasota, Florida native hit 9-of-13 field goals, including two treys and 12-of-17 total free throws in the contest. But it was his poise down the final half minute that helped LSU end a three-game league losing streak and help itself in the conference race back to within one game of the lead.
LSU is now 17-12 on the year and 10-6 in the SEC, while Florida is now also 17-12 but 8-8 in the conference.
Freshman Ben Simmons posted 22 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, marking his fourth straight game scoring 20 points, his 24th consecutive double figure scoring game, his 20th double-double of the season and his fifth game of 20-15-5 this season.
Simmons was 6-of-12 from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. He also had four steals.
LSU guard Tim Quarterman had his first double figure scoring game since Jan 30 with 15 points while Jalyn Patterson added 11 and Craig Victor II 10 before fouling out late.
Florida was paced by John Egbunu with 22 points, while Kasey Hill had 16, Devin Robinson 15 and Dorian Finney-Smith 14.
It was a tale of two radically different halves in the conclusion of a day on the campus that saw the LSU and NBA icon Bob Pettit unveiled a statue in his honor outside on the plaza of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers came out fired up and scored the first six points on a jumper by Victor, a steal and dunk by Simmons and a dunk by Victor that forced Florida to call time out 57 seconds into the contest.
LSU was still able to move the game along at their pace, jumping to an 18-8 lead on a Jalyn Patterson steal and layup at the 12:07 mark and 20-8 on a Blakeney jumper.
The Gators came back from there to score the next 15 points to take a 23-20 lead on a dunk by Kevarrius Hayes.
But the Tigers would close the half on a 20-6 run and seemed in full control of the game at the half, up 40-29 at the break.
The teams would both go 2-of-4 at the free throw line in the first half. They would combine to shoot 60 in the second 20 minutes as the teams combined to score 118 points.
LSU opened the second half strong and controlled the game for first 10 minutes easily opening 17 points in the first two minutes, 48-31, on a trey by Patterson. The lead would get to 18 points once with 13:40 to play, 58-40, and 17 points twice more, the last on a Blakeney layup with 10:31, 64-47.
But from there, Florida began to get back in the game slowly making shots against the LSU defense. The lead dropped to under double digits at eight, 70-62, with 5:14 to play. The lead went back to 13 twice, but the Gators kept hitting shots and cut the game to first five with 1:06 to play by Robinson.
The lead dropped to two on two occasions as Hill hit a trey to cut it to 86-84 with 44 seconds left. The teams traded free throws and then Blakeney began to get fouled in the final half minutes and make free throws to clinch the games.
For the third straight game, the opponents shot 60 percent in the second half with Florida making 65.6 percent (21-of-32). LSU shot over 50 percent in both halves, making 12-of-21 in the second half for 57.1% and 55.8 percent (29-of-52) for the game. Florida shot 55 percent for the game (33-of-60). LSU was 30-of-43 at the free throw line (69.8%), while Florida was 15-of-25 for 60 percent.
The Tigers close out the home portion of the regular season Tuesday night at 8 p.m. as Missouri comes to town. Senior night ceremonies will begin at 7:45 p.m.
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LSU HEAD COACH QUOTES
Head Coach Johnny Jones
“We knew coming into this game it would be a hard fought battle. Coach (Mike) White has done a tremendous job with a Florida basketball team that has been very competitive all year. For us to come out the way that we did in the first five or so minutes to set the tone of this basketball game was really important. I certainly commend our guys for their effort, attitude, mindset they had coming in. We knew Florida, like they have done all year long, would continue to battle and fight back. Our guys did a great job, even there in the end, staying poised under pressure when they were making plays, getting back into the game, knocking down their free throws at the end. They did what was necessary. They drove the basketball, created foul opportunities, made plays at the basket. We did not do a great job of containing the basketball, which was really important for us. At the end of the day, we had a big time win here at home to put us in a situation to end this conference season strong. We look forward to another challenge on Tuesday.”
On Florida double-teaming Ben Simmons and the team stepping up…
“I told our guys afterward to give themselves a hand. I thought they did a great job of giving Antonio Blakeney a great deal of confidence. They have been doing that over the last week or so, including tonight, telling him to be aggressive and be aggressive in his play…Even with that, he’s still unselfish enough to try to make the next best play for his team. They showed Ben Simmons different coverage tonight. When they tried to defend him with one guy, he was able to get to the basket. Then, they switched up the coverage on him. He did a great job of finding the open person, and those guys knocked down shots. Tim Quarterman played well and knocked down some shots tonight, including Jalyn Patterson with Blakeney being able to stretch the defense tonight.”
On Tim Quarterman’s performance…
“He did a great job of quarterbacking the team tonight, making the necessary plays. He took the shots when they were available to him. He created opportunities for his teammates as well. He was patient and was able to get down and knock down some free throws there late. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t knock them all down, but his floor game and his presence out there on the floor defensively and offensively making the right plays, he was really good for us tonight. He was a big key component for us to win this game tonight.”
On Is 15 turnovers too many?…
“Generally with how we play, around 10, 12. We are a fast-paced, up-tempo style team. We are going to take chances. Against a team like Florida who creates a lot of turnovers—they’re a very solid team, they press a lot—we did a good job of managing it and making plays. We certainly don’t want to be up to the 15-number against a team that feeds off of turnovers for easy scoring opportunities.”
LSU PLAYER COACH QUOTES
Point Forward Ben Simmons
On the team shooting well to start the game…
“That’s huge having guys like Antonio (Blakeney), Jalyn (Patterson), and Tim (Quarterman) step up and hit shots. That creates more options for us. Them doing that (hitting shots) opens more space.”
On how important Antonio Blakeney is to the offensive success…
“He’s the best shooter on our team. I believe he’s the best shooter in the SEC so every time he gets an open look I want him to shoot it.”
On the urgency to win this game…
“Everybody knew we needed this win. We lost to Florida when we went down there, so this was a big win.”
Guard Antonio Blakeney
On what was going right for him tonight…
“Really, it was just my teammates believing in me. Ben told me before the game to shoot every time I get a good look. And every time I didn’t get a good look these guys were just on me so I was just trying to knock the shots down.”
On his free-throw shooting down the stretch…
“I missed some early in the game, but I just tried to forget about that and knock them down.”
Guard Tim Quarterman
On the urgency to win this game…
“I think we responded well early. We got out to a big lead, were sharing the ball, playing together. I think that carried over to the second half. Just getting stops, playing together, and making plays for each other.
On the team’s 15 turnovers…
“That’s way too many. I think I contributed to that a lot tonight. We just need to take care of the ball. We still got the win.”
Guard Jalyn Patterson
On stepping in for Keith Horsnby tonight…
“I just tried to come out and play hard and to be confident. With Keith (Hornsby) out, players on the team have to step up. So I just tried to go out, play hard, and just step up for my team.”
FLORIDA HEAD COACH QUOTES
Head Coach Mike White
“Ten turnovers that lead to 17 points in the first half. I can’t explain it. We weren’t being pressured, we weren’t being pressed. Terrible decisions in the first half. At the point guard position, we had six turnovers at halftime. You can’t do that. You can’t do it at home, and you definitely can’t do it on the road. Our urgency on transition defense has got to be a lot better than that. It can’t lead to 17 turnovers. We had other transition defensive flaws. We watched it at halftime. We weren’t flying around the court. I don’t know what the deal was with us tonight. Again, I can take losses to good teams, especially on the road when you play really, really hard like we did in the last 12 to 14 minutes of the game. It’s just unfortunate that we dug ourselves that big of a hole by being stuck in mud in transition defense and by making costly errors offensively.”
On Florida’s sense of urgency in the second half…
“I thought our guys played incredibly hard in the last 12 or 14 minutes of the game. I thought we played incredibly hard. Unfortunately, the game is 40 minutes long.”
On questioning the intentional foul…
“I questioned it. Absolutely. I have no explanation for it. I guess I don’t understand the rule correctly because John Egbunu has literally been chased around the floor in several games this year and fouled so they can send him to the foul line and we did that tonight, the same exact thing, and we were called for an intentional foul. I don’t understand it and that’s my fault.”
On Florida’s three-game losing streak…
“First off, we were close. We’re losing to good teams, obviously. We’re not defending at the level we were defending a month ago, and that’s easy to say it’s because we’re playing good players but this team hasn’t had a lot of success in just trying to outscore people. We’ve got to be on our ‘A game’ defensively and tonight we gave up 56 percent and 44 percent and we fouled 18 times. That’s not a recipe for success for this team.”
On Florida’s NCAA tournament hopes…
“Every time we lose it hurts; your chances decrease. We still have our chances, though. If our guys are in the locker room right now thinking about the NCAA tournament, they’re incorrect. We need to be concerned with how we can guard somebody and how we can pass the ball to each other without throwing it to the other team.”
FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES
Center John Egbunu
On how tough it was to try and comeback from their rough start…
“It was pretty tough. We dug ourselves in a hole early and it was really tough for us to come out of it.”
On what went well in the second half…
“You’d have to ask coach, but we were more aggressive offensively. We tried to get to the basket a little more. We played a lot more inside-out basketball and I think that gave us a good boost in the second half. We also played with a lot more energy.”
On the sense of urgency his team has now…
“It’s high, it’s really high. We have really put ourselves in a tough situation and we have to dig ourselves out of it.”
Forward Devin Robinson
On how tough it was to dig out of the hole they were in early…
“It’s always tough when you start off slow like that. I don’t know why it happens, but it just happens. If we want to win, we can’t have starts like that. We need to figure something out.”
On his team’s sense of urgency…
“We just need to win, that’s basically it. Our backs are against the wall and we need to figure something out. We just need to come out here and win these next few games. Then we can go to the SEC Tournament with some momentum and try to win the whole thing.”
On what the team did differently in the second half…
“I couldn’t even tell you man. I just think guys started to figure it out that we really needed to try and win this game. We had kind of a lackadaisical mentality in the beginning and we knew we needed to do something so we wouldn’t get embarrassed here.”