University of Florida

No. 21 Gators hoops looks to bounce back against FSU

Florida guard KeVaughn Allen (5) drives to the basket defended by North Florida forward Wajid Aminu (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.
Florida guard KeVaughn Allen (5) drives to the basket defended by North Florida forward Wajid Aminu (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. AP

UF shooting guard KeVaughn Allen had his breakout game against Florida State last year.

A dozen games into his freshman year, Allen ripped through open lanes, found his stroke at the three-point line and made all of his free throws en route to a career-high 32 point outing.

On Sunday, when No. 21 Florida (7-2) and Florida State (9-1) tip off from Donald R. Tucker Center at 4 p.m., Allen hopes to have another solid outing that can lead UF to its first win over the Seminoles since 2013.

“It's just going to make us play harder,” Allen said. “The fact that they beat us last year, we just can't let it happen again."

Each of Florida’s last two contests against Florida State, both losses, have been games that went down to the wire.

Last season, the Gators came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 71-71 with 23 seconds left on the clock before FSU’s Dwayne Bacon hit a jumper with five seconds to go to seal the Seminoles’ 73-71 win in the O’Connell Center.

And in 2014, Florida tied the game on three occasions in the final 12-and-a-half minutes, the last of which came on a Dorian Finney-Smith layup with 8 ticks left in regulation. Florida State won the game in its home arena when UF’s Jacob Kurtz tipped in a missed three-point attempt Devon Bookert with less than a second to go.

This year’s matchup has the potential to be just as close.

The Seminoles bring height, athleticism, depth and an eight-game win streak into Sunday’s matchup. Bacon, a 6-7 combo guard, leads Florida State in scoring, averaging 16.6 points per contest. Freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, who stands at a towering 6-10, is right behind him at 15.1 points per game and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per night. All nine FSU players who have seen the court in every game this year are averaging at more than 12 minutes per game and at least 4.5 points.

“What a deep team,” second-year UF coach Mike White said. “We’ll need to handle it, of course in a hostile environment, to add to that. We’ll need to handle the ball. We’ll need to be able to get open, play with poise, play through adversity, play through some of their runs without having it force us into some bad decisions offensively.”

The Gators, meanwhile, are entering their 10th straight contest away from home to start the season while the $64.5 million renovation to the O’Connell Center nears its completion.

UF already has picked up quality neutral-site wins against Seton Hall, Miami and St. Bonaventure and its lone two losses are an 84-74 defeat against Duke in Madison Square Garden and a five-point loss to Gonzaga in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando. Both are top-10 teams.

White said the main thing separating his team from the upper echelon of the college basketball world is seasoning and poise, the experience and ability to remain in the fight when the opponent starts clawing into your game.

Sunday will be another chance to gain that needed experience, he said.

“Our strengths right now are our length, our athleticism, the fact that we have a locker room full of guys that are willing to fight for each other, playing selflessly, staying together, willing to sit down in a stance and give it everything they’ve got defensively,” White said. “... We’ve got to be more consistent. That’s where we’re at right now

▪ Backup point guard Chris Chiozza suffered a bruised quad against Duke on Tuesday and is questionable to play against Florida State, White said Friday. The junior is averaging 6.2 points per game on 38.5-percent shooting, leads the Gators with a 2.08 assist-to-turnover ratio and is tied for the team lead with 13 steals.

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