The Gators had been here before.
No one was more disappointed in Florida’s recent loss to South Carolina than coach Mike White.
In fact, it was just four nights ago when they were in this same position against South Carolina.
They’d let the Gamecocks claw their way back from a 14-point deficit to leave them stunned in their SEC opener on Jan. 5. And they weren’t going to let it happen again.
Florida’s 15-point second-half lead against Arkansas on Wednesday night dwindled to a mere two-point advantage with 1:02 left to play.
Then came senior guard KeVaughn Allen.
The Little Rock, Arkansas, native nailed four free throws in the final 12 seconds to cap an 18-point performance and secure the Gators’ 57-51 victory in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Florida (9-5, 1-1 SEC) spoiled the Razorbacks’ SEC home opener and held them to their lowest scoring total of the season.
Arkansas (10-4, 1-1 SEC) wasn’t prepared for Florida’s defense early on. The Razorbacks went over nine minutes in the first half without a single made field goal in a sequence that consisted of bad shots, followed by turnovers, followed by more bad shots and more turnovers.
By the half, the Razorbacks turned the ball over 12 times and shot just 28 percent from the field.
But Florida didn’t escape the game without poor shooting spurts of its own. The Gators missed their first five attempts of the contest and made just two of their last 10 shots by the end.
Allen’s 18 points and 11 made free throws led the team. But he shot 3-for-11 from the floor.
His underwhelming shooting percentage was met with a 4-of-8 night from second-leading scorer Noah Locke (who finished with 10 points) and 4-of-15 shooting from senior guard Jalen Hudson, who collected nine points.
But Florida carried a 11-point lead into the break simply because the Razorbacks’ offense played that much worse.
Razorbacks guard Mason Jones made sure to keep the game interesting, though. The sophomore found his way to the basket and was the only consistent shooter from deep, giving his team chance after chance. But his game-high 30 points weren’t nearly enough to compensate for how little his teammates contributed offensively.
Arkansas next-highest scorer was Daniel Gafford with nine points.
The Razorbacks’ push inside five minutes left in the game almost made up for that. They picked up their offensive tempo and got to the foul line to trim their deficit without taking too much time off the clock.
But Florida, having no interest in repeating the same mistakes it made against South Carolina, held on to get its first win in conference play this year.
Although many of Florida’s games this season have left coach Mike White both baffled and disappointed, he may be able to find satisfaction in an ugly win that saw his veterans make somewhat of an impact, especially with a matchup against No. 3 Tennessee looming.
Follow Alanis Thames on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at [email protected].