Florida scored the game’s first nine points against lethargic LSU Wednesday night and led from start to finish in a 81-66 victory over the visiting Tigers.
LSU (19-9, 10-5) slipped from a second-place tie in the SEC race with Auburn (24-4, 11-4) into a third-place tie with Florida (18-10, 10-5), which played with considerably more energy than LSU.
Keyontae Johnson led the Gators with a career-high 25 points, including 17 in the first half when Florida led by 10 points at intermission. Scottie Lewis added 18 points and Andrew Newbhard contributed 15.
Sophomore forward Emmitt Williams, a Florida native, topped the Tigers with 25 points. Freshman forward Trendon Watford had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Senior guard Skylar Mays, who leads LSU in scoring for the year, never got in rhythm and finished with a season-low 3 points.
The Tigers started the game like they were doomed upon arrival, and in a sense they were.
LSU coach Will Wade confirmed before tipoff against the Gators that guard Charles Manning Jr., the Tigers’ best player off its three-man bench, fractured his left foot in Saturday’s 86-80 loss at South Carolina.
Manning, who has averaged 7.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in 19 games with three starts, fractured the same bone that he previously broke in his right foot against Texas A&M that caused him to miss eight games. He underwent surgery Monday to have a screw inserted into the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
He will likely be out about four weeks, which probably means the end of the season unless LSU gets an NCAA tournament bid and advances past the first weekend.
As of now with three regular season games left, the Tigers are likely to get a second straight NCAA bid unless they have a total collapse starting with Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against Texas A&M.
But the Tigers did themselves no favors with their slow start against the Gators. Florida hit its first six shots, led by double figures with the game not even four minutes old and maintained a double-digit lead for almost all the final 12 minutes of the first half after LSU cut the Florida lead to six points with 12:45 left.
The Gators scored 34 of their first half points in the paint on their way to a 41-31 halftime lead. Florida, which hit 11-of-30 3s against the Tigers in an 84-82 loss Jan. 21, didn’t need to attempt as many 3s in this rematch.
Once Florida found it could get to the basket almost anytime it wanted – LSU’s defensive communication and rotations bordered on embarrassing – the Gators took layups rather than 3s.
In the second half as LSU tried to play with more of a sense of urgency, Florida matched the Tigers’ energy.