Florida can’t hold onto lead, falls to Alabama for 3rd straight SEC loss
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Alabama coach Avery Johnson had a “conversation” at halftime with his team, a “great talk” about reducing turnovers and making better decisions.
His message was loud and clear. It was well-received, too.
Collin Sexton scored 17 points, Donta Hall notched his fourth double-double of the season, and Alabama rallied from a 10-point deficit to thump No. 23 Florida 68-50 Saturday.
Sexton added eight rebounds and six assists for the Crimson Tide (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference), which dominated the second half and improved to 2-4 on the road.
“We basically looked like we had never practiced before in our lives offensively in the first half, throwing the ball all over the gym, too many turnovers,” Johnson said, noting his team’s 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Johnson ripped into his players in the locker room, and they responded in resounding fashion. The Tide scored the first eight points of the second half and later used a 15-2 run to open up a double-digit lead.
Alabama dominated Florida (15-8, 6-4) in the paint, on the glass and up and down the floor. The Tide outscored the Gators 41-17 in the second half, finishing with a 43-25 rebounding advantage and outscoring them 46-26 in the paint and 29-1 off the bench.
“The halftime talk was a great talk,” Hall said. “We came out with a better mindset, more focus. … Crashing the boards, getting easy looks, finding the open man.”
Sexton did the most damage, dribbling through Florida’s defense and creating open layups and dunks.
Hall was one of the beneficiaries. He made all seven shots and finished with 14 points and 11 boards. Fellow forward Braxton Key chipped in 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“The defensive performance we gave in the second half was discouraging to say the least,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Gators had no answer for Alabama’s speed at guard and athleticism in the paint.
They lost their third consecutive SEC game, the first time that’s happened since the end of White’s first season in 2016, and surely won’t be ranked Monday.
“If we don’t make wholesale changes, we’re going to continue to have peaks and valleys,” White said. “We’ll continue to be average.”
KeVaughn Allen led the Gators with 16 points. Keith Stone had 12, and Egor Koulechov added 11.
“It’s pretty frustrating because I know that the players are mad, I know that the coaches are mad, I know that the fans are mad,” Stone said. “So we’ve just got to turn around and do better.”
Alabama: The Tide gained some much-needed confidence on the road. Alabama had lost three of four away from home in league play, and since Johnson’s team plays three of its next four on the road — tough games at Mississippi State, Kentucky and Auburn — winning at Florida could prove to be a turning point for a late-season surge.
“How are we going to handle this perceived prosperity?” Johnson said. “What’s going to happen in the next 48 hours before we go to Mississippi State? Are we going to believe the hype that we’ve arrived or are we going to keep our heads down and just be focused? Trying to instill that in 18- and 19-year-old guys, it’s not an excuse, it’s a challenge sometimes. But we love the challenge.”
Florida: The Gators have little, if any, inside presence and might not have any this season. Injured center John Egbunu had a setback while recovering from knee surgery, and there’s no timetable for his return.
Florida recognized longtime Billy Donovan assistant John Pelphrey during an early timeout. Fans gave the former Florida assistant a warm reception. Pelphrey spent a decade at Florida, working under Donovan for two stints (1996-2002, 2011-15). Pelphrey was making his first trip to Gainesville since joining Johnson’s staff at Alabama in 2016.
Alabama: Plays at Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Florida: Hosts LSU on Wednesday.