University of Florida

Gators rally for sixth win in a row

Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes (13) dunks the ball over Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017.
Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes (13) dunks the ball over Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. AP

Florida’s Justin Leon took a pass beyond the arc from teammate Chris Chiozza midway through the second half against Texas A&M, set his feet and released.

The Gators were slowly coming out of a shooting slump that had turned an 11-point lead into their first deficit of the game.

But as Leon’s three-point shot swished through the net and brought a lulling O’Connell Center crowd back to life, Florida found its groove.

Leon’s basket gave the No. 17 Gators the lead for good and sparked a 24-10 run over seven minutes that was capped by another Leon three-pointer to lift Florida to its sixth consecutive win, a 71-62 victory over the Aggies on Saturday afternoon.

Leon scored a game-high 18 points — one shy of his career high — on 7-of-15 shooting. He made four three-point baskets.

“This was the second or third one where if Justin doesn’t sprint into a couple of threes, we probably don’t do enough offensively,” said UF second-year coach Mike White, whose team on Saturday was also pegged as the No. 11 overall seed in the NCAA’s March Madness bracket preview. “... He’s a machine, and he also plays like it.”

Canyon Barry added 11 points off the bench for Florida (20-5, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) and broke UF’s record for consecutive made free throws.

The graduate-transfer guard and son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry is now at 39 in a row after going 4 for 4 on Saturday, besting the previous mark of 37 set by Taurean Green during Florida’s 2006-07 national-title-winning season.

“When he hits a shot or he gets fouled, guys just kind of exhale,” White said of Barry. “And they feel, ‘here comes Canyon, lifting us up.’ 

The Gators needed a couple players to lift them up, with the likes of Kasey Hill (three points, five turnovers), Devin Robinson (four points, three rebounds) and Kevarrius Hayes (four points, one rebound) having off days and the effects of a noon tipoff setting in early again.

After UF jumped out to a 24-13 lead with 6:29 left in the first half, Texas A&M (13-11, 5-7 SEC) closed the half on a 14-5 run.

Florida made just one of its final nine shots in that span and then proceeded to miss 12 of its next 14 to open the second half heading into a media timeout.

The Aggies’ zone defense stymied the Gators early on and forced them to settle for jump shots.

“It kind of made us be a little stagnant,” Leon said.

But UF responded by making six shots in a row to take the lead and never looked back.

“I think it shows the maturity of this team to be able to snap out of it and really execute down the stretch,” Barry said.

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