BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Florida has put itself in position to challenge for a Southeastern Conference championship.
The 14th-ranked Gators, playing without injured starting forward Chandler Parsons, survived a tricky test on Sunday, beating LSU 68-61 for their fifth consecutive victory that moved them 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). The Gators' remaining opponents are Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt - four potential NCAA tournament teams.
Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton each scored 17 points and for Florida. Walker made three 3-pointers and all four of his free throw attempts. Boynton was 5 of 12 from the field and made six of his seven foul shots.
``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 scored 12 points in the first half and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
``I felt like it was going to be important to go inside and try to establish Vernon,' said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who didn't have Parsons because of a thigh bruise. ``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 scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half for the Tigers (10-17, 2-10), who have lost 10 straight.
``It's starting to be a habit,' LSU coach Trent Johnson said of the losing streak. ``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.'
Two scoring spurts enabled Florida to take a 15-point halftime lead. Ahead 9-8 lead, the Gators ran off 10 consecutive points with all but two coming from reserves Patric Young and Erik Murphy. The other points came on a field goal by Boynton.
LSU pulled within 21-16 after a 3-pointer by Aaron Dotson. Florida then outscored the Tigers 11-3 over a 5-minute span. Boynton connected on two shots, one a 3-pointer, and Macklin made two field goals.
A basket by Walker completed the outburst and gave the Gators a 32-19 lead with 5:47 remaining in the first half. Macklin made two shots in the final 5 minutes as Florida took a 40-25 lead.
``We just wanted to crash the boards pretty hard,' Macklin said. ``We tried to get to the rim stronger than LSU. We just have to keep playing and practicing hard. If we let our practice carry over to our games, we'll be fine from here on out.'
LSU reduced its deficit to 42-34 as Turner knocked down a 3-pointer and made two of three free throws after being fouled on another 3-point attempt.
The Gators stopped the Tigers' run with six straight points. Walker connected on a 3-pointer, Macklin made one free throw and Boynton added two more. LSU made one last run at Florida inside the 9-minute mark.
A three-point play by Macklin put the Gators in front 58-46 with 9:01 remaining. The Tigers held Florida scoreless for almost 6 minutes. Matt Derenbecker hit a 3-pointer and Garrett Green made one of two free throws. A jumper by Turner left LSU behind 58-52.
Florida's scoring drought ended when Boynton made a layup after a steal by Macklin. The Tigers got within 60-54 on a basket by Daron Populist, but the Gators made six consecutive free throws - four by Walker - in the last 2 minutes.
The Associated Press News Service
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