BATON ROUGE, La. — Florida has put itself in position to challenge for an SEC championship.
The No. 14 Gators, playing without injured starting forward Chandler Parsons, survived a tricky test Sunday, beating LSU 68-61 for their fifth straight win to move into a tie with Alabama for the overall SEC lead.
However, the final two weeks of the regular season will not be easy for Florida (21-5, 10-2). Its remaining opponents are Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt, all potential NCAA Tournament teams. UF may have to face all four minus Parsons, who sat out with a deep thigh bruise.
Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton had 17 points each for Florida, which went scoreless for nearly six minutes after taking a 58-46 lead with 9:01 left. The Gators made six straight free throws, four by Walker, in the last two minutes to hang on.
"We had a great first half," Boynton said. "We played great going inside-out. We lost that in the second half and LSU hit shots in the second half."
Center Vernon Macklin set the tone for the Gators in the first half, when they built a 15-point lead. He was 6-of-9 from the field and had 12 points in the half.
"It was important to go inside and try to establish Vernon," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We got him some touches and they elected not to double him. They played him head-up in the post. Vernon established a low base early where he was not getting pushed off the post."
Ralston Turner had 16 of his 18 points in the second half for the Tigers (10-17, 2-10).
"It's starting to be a habit," coach Trent Johnson said. "Florida's pretty good. In the first half, it was as much as what they were doing as to what we didn't do. We showed very, very good competitiveness and courage in the second half. That's probably as good as we can play at this time."
With Parsons out, 6-foot-6 freshman Casey Prather started, giving the Gators an athletic lineup that pressed early.
Two scoring spurts enabled Florida to take a 15-point halftime lead. Ahead 9-8, the Gators ran off 10 consecutive points, all but two coming from reserves Patric Young and Erik Murphy. Later, UF went on an 11-3 run.
"We just wanted to crash the boards pretty hard," Macklin said (UF outrebounded LSU 41-29). "We tried to get to the rim stronger than LSU."