In what was LSU’s seventh overtime game of the season, the No. 10 Tigers survived a trip to Gainesville, Fla., and escaped with a 79-78 victory against Florida.
The Tigers (25-5, 15-2 Southeastern Conference) are now just one win against Vanderbilt — who remained winless in the SEC entering Wednesday — after overcoming a slow second-half start and what looked like a game-winner by Florida (17-13, 9-8) to avenge their loss to the Gators two weeks ago.
LSU had a solid first half, leading by as many as 11 points with 5:12 remaining in the period, but Florida forced eight turnovers and ended the half on a run to cut the Tigers’ lead to 34-31 going into the break.
The Gators then got red hot to start the second half, hitting 9 of their first 12 field goal attempts including 5 of 8 from the 3-point line i to go on a big run and take a lead it would hold for most of the second half.
When the “six-minute game” that LSU coach Will Wade regularly refers to started, the Gators lead 62-54.
That’s when LSU went on a 10-0 run in the span of less than a 1:30 that not only completed a rapid comeback but actually put the Tigers up 64-62 with 4:37 remaining.
The rest of the half turned into a back-and-forth affair, with Florida gaining momentum and cutting LSU’s lead to a point after Tremont Waters turned the ball over for an easy Jalen Hudson dunk to make it a one-point game with 29 seconds left.
Skylar Mays had an opportunity to re-extend that lead to three points at the free throw line, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Florida the opportunity to regain a lead with 22 seconds left.
The Gators made the most of that opportunity out of a timeout, as Hudson hit a 3-pointer that looked like a game-winner with six seconds left.
But Tremont Waters rushed down the floor and hit a tough, contested layup to tie the game at 72 points apiece and force overtime.
Overtime started in LSU’s favor with Javonte Smart hitting a layup and Waters with a deep 3 pointer to give the Tigers a five-point lead in the first minute of the period.
The Tiger would only get two more points in the form of a Naz Reid bucket for the rest of the game, but that’s all they would need.
Florida cut LSU’s lead to a point and had an opportunity to win the game out of a timeout with 9 seconds left, but the Gators never got a shot off.
Waters led the Tigers shooting 50 percent from the field for 19 points to go with six assits, three steals and six turnovers. Smart added 15 points and Emmitt Williams contributed a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, seven of which were offensive.
It didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Kavell Bigby-Williams contributed significant plays in the post, including three blocks, one of which kept Florida from taking a lead in the final minute of overtime.
Hudson did most of the work for Florida, tallying 33 points on 11-for-20 shooting and a 4-for-9 clip from the 3-point line.
LSU will look to clinch at least a share of the SEC crown Saturday when it takes on the Commodores.