GAINESVILLE — In the grand scheme of things, Florida's game against Alabama was another reminder of how far the Gators still have to go.
But with a group that coach Billy Donovan insists is giving all it has but continues to struggle through growing pains, the outcome was most important.
One game removed from its loss to the worst team in the SEC East, Florida withstood a late charge from Alabama for an 83-74 win Wednesday night at the O'Connell Center.
Florida (20-6, 7-4 SEC) has won 20 in 11 consecutive seasons, giving Donovan the SEC record for consecutive 20-win seasons at one school.
The Gators also moved back into a four-way tie for first place after South Carolina and Tennessee's losses Wednesday night.
Florida's victory came despite shooting just 40 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range. Florida shot 30.3 percent from the field in the second half and didn't hit a field goal in the final 5:46.
"I was happy with the way our guys battled, fought and found their way through not a great shooting night," Donovan said. "I thought Erving (Walker, 3-of-10) and Walter (Hodge, 3-of-13) had really good looks, but they didn't shoot the ball great tonight. But we were still able to overcome it."
Florida led 47-35 at halftime after leading by as many as 16 in the first half. But Alabama went on a 15-8 run to pull within 55-50 with 14:26 left. The Tide scored 14 in the paint during that run and had a 10-4 rebounding edge.
Florida gave up 44 points in the paint against the Tide (13-12, 3-8), a stark reminder of its size disadvantage in the frontcourt.
"It's definitely frustrating," said sophomore forward Chandler Parsons, who had nine points and three rebounds. "We're an undersized team, but that doesn't really matter. … They really crashed the glass against us in the second half. We've just got to keep teams off the glass."
With Alabama trailing by five, Gators sophomore forward Alex Tyus reentered and took over. He scored nine of the Gators' 15 in a nearly 11-minute span as Florida went on a 17-7 run.
"Coach Donovan was saying to me that we needed energy and rebounds, so that's what I tried to do when I went back in," said Tyus, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Alabama, playing with an interim coach and having lost five of six, hurt itself by shooting 10-of-20 from the free-throw line and going 0-of-6 from 3-point range in the second half.
The Gators' NCAA Tournament hopes stayed alive, for now. But Donovan reiterated there's a bigger issue: He's trying, he said, to help his team get better for the future. And fans need to come to grips with the fact this isn't the team from two seasons ago.
"They're not Noah, Horford, Brewer, Green and Humphrey," Donovan said, referring to the starting five of his two-time national championship teams. "They are not those guys. It's not even about them upholding the standard of what those guys did. It's about right now them creating their own legacy and trying to create their own thing."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.