Three Takeaways From Florida's 84-82 Loss To LSU
Keyontae Johnson beat his man.
With just .5 seconds remaining against LSU in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Tuesday, the Florida forward got past the man guarding him on an inbound play down two points with less than a second remaining on the clock.
Florida point guard Andrew Nembhard bounced it to him for a go-ahead layup to tie the game. Johnson laid it up and in.
After a review, officials waved off the basket, saying the ball was still in Johnson's hand when the buzzer sounded. It left the Gators just short, 84-82 with no time left.
Although UF lost, the tightly-contested game all the way until the end said a lot of positive things about this young Florida team. It proved that its recent trend of much better basketball from the start of the year is what can be expected of this group. Even in a loss, coach Mike White's squad played well.
It played better than it did even in some wins this season. As for any big game, it taught us a lot about the Gators and where exactly they are at this point. Here are a few of those takeaways:
Noah Locke is playing his basketball of the year
The sophomore guard perhaps had his lowest point of his college career in the second game of this season against Florida State. He was 0-7 from behind the three-point line, which is supposed to be the reason he is on the floor. It has not been a season where he strikes fear into opponents for his deadly stroke, but he has been much better as of late.
In four of the last five games, Locke has shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc. He is not a particularly big guard, at only 6-foot-3, 207 pounds. So, he needs to shoot well and stretch the floor to be a valuable asset to this team. He appears to finally be doing that.
And with as good of a passer and Nembhard is, a reliable three-point shooter to create extra floor space for the point guard to work helps this offense immensely. It is a key reason that it has had much more fluidity and ball movement in recent contests.
This team needs to run as much as possible
It is no secret that Florida is not a particularly large team. Now, as 6-foot-10 freshman Omar Payne's minutes have increased, especially alongside fellow 6-foot-10 forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., UF has had a little more size recently.
However, still, it is rare that the Gators ever have a height, or weight advantage on the floor, and it showed up against LSU. Fifty of the Tigers 84 points came in the paint.
However, 22 of Florida's points came in transition. That was one of the biggest areas of strength for UF in this game, as the Tigers only had 12 fast-break points. With an undersized team, but with freakish athletes like freshman forward/guard Scottie Lewis, Payne and Johnson, they can thrive in the fast break.
But obviously, fast-break buckets require defensive play-making. For more transition points, the Gators need to figure out how to give up less than 84, even to a team as good as LSU.
The stock is still rising
Make no mistake about it.
Despite losing this game, this is still good for White's team. I am sure he, and the entire team, would shoot down the idea of a moral victory, but this is one. This is as victory as a moral victory can get.
LSU entered Tuesday night on a six-game winning streak. It sits atop the SEC right now, undefeated in conference play. We're talking about a Gator basketball team that once was losing to Towson in the second half. The stock on this team was rising before this last-second thriller.
And it still is.
The Gators look so much better than they did just a month ago. Outside of the one egg they laid against Missouri a few weeks ago, UF has exclusively played good basketball in the entire month of January.