GAINESVILLE — With rival Florida State coming to town and posing the most physical threat it has faced all season, Florida was hoping to prove that in some small way, it wasn't the same soft team it once was.
For at least one game, the Gators made their point.
Florida took a 20-point first-half lead, nearly lost it, then pulled away for a 68-52 win over Florida State on Tuesday night in the O'Connell Center.
"We came out with a chip on our shoulders," sophomore guard/forward Ray Shipman said. "You can't compare this team to last year when it comes to toughness or soft. I just feel like we've got a new makeup. We're a new team and we're a lot tougher."
Florida (4-0) led 39-19 at halftime, but FSU (3-1) turned things around quickly in the second half. In the first nine minutes, the Gators shot 2-for-11, were outrebounded 14-6 and had seven turnovers.
Meanwhile, FSU was in the midst of a 19-4 run to pull within 43-38 with 11:59 left.
At that critical juncture, mistakes took a toll on the Seminoles. FSU committed three consecutive turnovers that led to six points for the Gators, part of a 9-0 run and a 50-38 lead.
"In reality we had three straight possessions where we made mistakes, mental errors, all three of them in transition, and unfortunately it gave them opportunities to run down, and they score on all three of those possessions," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "You fight hard to put yourself in that position, and then we made three poor decisions in a critical part of the game."
Florida coach Billy Donovan said he was proud of his team but admitted he saw flashes of last year. He said he's curious to re-examine the Gators' rally.
"Was the last 10 minutes because we did a great job, or was the last 10 minutes because Florida State exhausted so much energy in the first 10 minutes of the second half they were really tired?" Donovan said. "That's the biggest question, and I'll have to watch film and see."
The Seminoles hadn't lost to Florida since 2005.
"It feels great," said junior forward Alex Tyus, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. "I definitely didn't want to be the one who (allowed) 0-4 against them."
The Gators' biggest concern was the distinct height disadvantage in playing the Seminoles, whose starting lineup includes three players 6 feet 8 or taller. But it was the Gators who dominated the boards early, 20-11 in the first half. The Seminoles shot 33.3 percent from the field and committed 19 of their 23 turnovers in the half.
"You have to give Florida State a lot of credit for their kids coming out in the second half, having a lot of pride and resiliency, and battling," Donovan said. "Our guys, again, when FSU made a run, we were able to regroup and push the lead back. I thought it was a good win for us."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.