Freshman scores 32 to snap three-game skid
By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Antonio Blakeney caught a bullet pass from Ben Simmons, and with just an inch of space, he pump faked, much to his teammates’ dismay.
“Shoot the ball!” Simmons shouted at him.
Pretty good advice, it turns out.
Blakeney obliged, and shortly after poured in a career-high 32 points. Another 22 from Simmons helped LSU fend off a late comeback attempt in a 96-91 win over Florida.
“He’s the best shooter on our team,” Simmons said of Blakeney. “I believe he’s the best shooter in the SEC, so every time he gets an open look I want him to shoot it.”
Blakeney, who is averaging 20.0 points per game in the last seven games for LSU (17-12, 10-6 SEC), scored 21 of his 32 in the second half. He hit 11 of his last 12 free throw attempts to seal the deal, thwarting a late Gators rally that trimmed a lead that was once 18 points to two in the final minute.
“Really, it was just my teammates believing in me,” Blakeney said. “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.”
Coming off three straight losses, LSU burst out of the gate with a focused intensity, hitting its first five shots from the floor and building a quick 20-8 lead, thanks in no small part to back-to-back Tim Quarterman threes.
“I think we responded well early,” said Quarterman, who scored 15 points for his first double-digit scoring effort since Jan. 30 vs. Oklahoma. “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.”
The Gators bit back, running off 15 straight points to pull ahead 23-20, fueled by the interior presence of John Egbunu, who finished with 22 points to lead Florida (17-12, 8-8 SEC). But LSU’s defense tightened up, forcing misses on eight of Florida’s next 10 shots, and LSU reeled off a 13-2 run, capped off by a Jalyn Patterson three with 3:09 left. As the Gators doubled Simmons in the half court, the forward found his teammates for open looks, and they knocked them down, as Patterson (11 points) and Craig Victor (10 points) gave Simmons six assists and LSU five starters in double figures.
“That’s huge having guys like Antonio (Blakeney), Jalyn (Patterson), and Tim (Quarterman) step up and hit shots,” said Simmons. “That creates more options for us. Them doing that (hitting shots) opens more space.”
LSU extended its 40-27 halftime lead to as large as 18 on Blakeney’s and-one with 13:40 left, as the Tigers hit seven of their first nine shots from the field in the second half to build a lead that appeared insurmountable.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Florida scored 51 points over the final 13 minutes to climb back in the game, including 18 points in the final 1:30. The Gators relentless attacked the rim and knocked down key three-pointers, pulling within two twice, as late as 19 seconds to go on a Kasey Hill three point play. But Blakeney came up aces at the line in crunch time, burying six straight to hand LSU its first win in two weeks and, perhaps, setting them back on a path toward the NCAA Tournament.
“We did not do a great job of containing the basketball (late), which was really important for us,” said head coach Johnny Jones. “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.”
– Blakeney’s Belief: Jones said Blakeney’s teammates have been in his ear all week since the injury to Keith Hornsby, letting him know they’d need his scoring punch. “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.”
– Unintentional Mistake: Florida will regret a late intentional foul that had head coach Michael White fuming. White instructed Egbunu to foul Victor away from the ball, but the refs whistled the foul intentional, giving LSU two shots and the ball. Said White: “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.”
– Simmons Shines: Simmons scored 20 points for the fourth straight game and reached double figures for the 24th time this season. He tallied a double-double for the 20th time, most in the league, and enjoyed his sixth game of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists.