GAINESVILLE —Looking to avoid its first 0-3 SEC start since 1981, Florida kept it close against No. 12 LSU on Wednesday night.
But too many easy baskets by the Tigers and too many missed free throws proved the Gators’ undoing in a 64-58 loss.
A nip-and-tuck game late hinged on Florida (9-6, 0-3 SEC) missing 7 of 9 free throws to end an 11-of-22 night from the line.
We have to get this thing going,” Gators coach Mike White said. “We’ve proven to be capable. This team hasn’t handled adversity very well. We’ve got to get some type of mojo back.”
“We had our chances,” forward Anthony Duruji said. “We have to be confident knocking down free throws and open shots. It’s all mental.”
LSU forward Darius Days, who grew up just outside of Gainesville in tiny Raleigh (population 347), led the way with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. The Tigers ended the game with 42 points in the paint.
“I have to do a better job protecting the rim,” UF center Colin Castleton said. “We just have to play better defense. We can’t let that slip, and we let that slip.”
Castleton, though, shouldered the load much of the night for the Gators, finishing with team-highs of 19 points and 9 rebounds. Like last Saturday’s loss at Auburn, Castleton’s best efforts were not enough as another close game slipped away.
“Disappointing,” the senior from DeLand said. “We just have to find a way ... 0-3 in SEC play is not good.”
LSU offered Florida a chance for its first quality win since a Nov. 24 upset of Ohio State. But despite their starting point guard, Xavier Pinson, sitting out with a knee sprain, the Tigers controlled the game early and jumped out to a 12-4 lead.
The Gators didn’t wilt and twice fought back from double-digit deficits.
Trailing 46-33, Florida went on a 13-2 run to cut the lead to 48-46 on a 3 by Phlandrous Fleming with 12:08 left. Neither team was able to pull away after that.
A layup by Castleton cut LSU’s lead to 54-53 with 6:04 to go. The Gators trailed by as little as two points three times from there, including 60-58 with 1:37 remaining.
A missed 3-pointer by Florida guard Brandon McKissic with 40 seconds to go effectively ended the Gators’ chances.
To go with their 50 percent free-throw shooting, the Gators shot just 36 percent from the field, including missing their last eight 3s.
“The thing is, you’re talking about good shooters here,” White said. “It’s obviously mental. … We’ve got to get mentally tougher.”
The Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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