Shavon Coleman spied the crease from the right wing, and as the junior forward put the ball on the floor and drove headlong into the lane the swath of hardwood quickly closed.
As his third dribble thudded, Coleman’s trajectory faced impediments — the outsretched arms of Florida duo Will Yeguete and Patric Young. Twisting his torso to avoid a charge, Coleman’s scoop layup thumped the underside of the backboard. Stuck beneath the rim, Coleman’s put back try revealed the same impediment: Yegeute and Young’s chiseled arms.
The predicament went beyond Coleman’s quandary seven minutes into the second half of a 74-52 loss to No. 11 Florida on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Center, a defeat defined by a 13-minute span where the Tigers (9-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) mustered only two baskets and limited to a second-consecutive woeful shooting night by the Gators’ depth and experience.
Florida (12-2, 2-0) made its emphatic twist over the final six minutes of the first half, a span where LSU missed all four of its jumpers — two of them contested — and committed four turnovers to help the slow starting Gators grind out a 10-1 run and turn a 19-19 ballgame into a comfortable nine-point lead at halftime.
“When you play a team that puts the type of pressure on you like a Florida, you may rush some shots and take some shots early instead of getting to the gaps,” Jones said. “The experience they had allowed them to make a run.”
Guard Anthony Stringer’s 15 points, which came on 6 of 12 shooting, carried LSU, and Coleman added 11 points off the bench, but the rest of the Tigers’ rotation only featured two players that hit more than two shots. The Tigers knocked down just 6 of 24 3-pointers, and the nation’s ninth-worst free-throw shooting team only made only 4 of 10 attempts at the line.
The Gators’ decisive move unfolded in a volley of misses — four in a row, actually — before point guard Scottie Wilbekin sank a running floater in the middle of the lane for a 21-19 lead at 4:02 in the first half to help Florida begin amassing what would grow to a 25-point lead midway through the second half.
Small forward Casey Prather got a tip-in at 1:38 for a 25-20 lead, followed up a a possession later by Kenny Boynton, who led Florida with 20 points on 7 of 13 shooting, after LSU’s Andre Stringer watched his 3-pointer fail to draw iron for a shot clock violation.
Finally, Wilibekin’s cross-over at the top of the arc backed of Hickey enough to allow the Gators’ point guard to hit a jumper with 1.3 seconds left and set a 29-20 lead going into the locker room.
Trotting up the tunnel, LSU had shot just 29.6 percent and aside from Stringer and Coleman the rest of the Tigers managed only a 4 of 19 (21.1 percent) performance from the floor, which followed a 36.8 percent outing in a loss Wednesday at Auburn.
“We’re not concerned,” Coleman said of LSU’s emerging issue at battling prolonged scoring droughts. “We know we’re a team that can shoot the ball. It just takes time to keep practicing on our shooting, and day-by-day get better. We’re going to shoot the ball well.”
The run also came with Hickey seated on the bench.
“When Hickey is in the game, he creates opportunities for other guys to score buckets,” Jones said. “You can’t take that lightly.”
Trailing 15-10, guard Malik Morgan knocked down a 3-pointer in the left corner in transition as Florida guard Michael Frazier II barreled into him — only to miss the free throw off the back iron. Two trips later, Hickey shoveled a feed to forward Andrew Del Piero on a secondary break for a lay-up and foul by forward Erik Murphy, but Del Piero also came up empty at the line and it remained 15-15.
“When we get that opportunity, we’ve got to take it,” Hickey said of missing a chance to assume control. “We’ve had to chances these past two games to take over the game, and we just weren’t able to. It’s about learning, and we’ll move on.”
LSU couldn’t dent the lead early in the second half, either. The Tigers missed 12 of their first 14 shots to start the second half, settling for jumpers or 3-pointers on 10 of those possessions. It’s indicative of a team struggling to get enough ball movement or pressure driving lanes to generate unfettered looks at the rim, Jones said.
“It’s not usually that first pass, but that second pass that when you get a team into rotating defensively. You want to get them a pass behind and stretch the defense so that next pass it will be a longer cover out. Then you can relax your feet and get shots off.”
And Florida wasted scant time reeling off a 12-2 run over 3:27 that was capped by the Young flushing home a two-handed jam in transition for a 48-25 lead at 13:18 to go — a blow landed after Coleman’s foray into the lane.
“They had such a deep bench, people coming in one after the next and it really wore you down on the run,”Del Piero said.
Young finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds, while Murphy — starting after guard Mike Rosario sat with a left-ankle sprain — overcame a 1 of 7 start to finish with 12 points for the Gators, whose eight-man rotation finished a plus-19 rebound margin and outscored LSU 38-26 in the lane.
“They’ve got guys injured just like we do, but they just kept running guys in,” Jones said. “They had a guy hobbling off there at halftime, and you come back out there and they’ve got another guy that looks just like him. They don’t have any slippage. They don’t have any drop-off at all.”
Again LSU saw limited contributions from forward Johnny O’Bryant, who scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting in just 14 minutes of action, including only two minutes in the second half.
LSU injected some enthusiam during a 9-0 spurt in less than a minute, pulling within 50-37 on a 3-pointer from Coleman in the right corner, after rolling out a full-court press coming out of a timeout to force three-consecutive Flordia turnovers. But Jones said LSU didn’t have the bodies to use it for longer stretches.
“If you look overt there at that bench, we don’t have enough guys to expend that type of energy,” Jones said. “I’d love to. If you see the way we pressured them and were able them over, I’d love to throw the press out there.”
Ultimately, LSU knows the move would only be a temporary resolution if its shooters can’t correct waning accuracy.
“We can’t change it up” Hickey said. “It’s about getting in the gym. We’ve all got to get back in that gym — everybody — day and night.”
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