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LSU 79, Florida 61: Chomping With Confidence

The Tigers made some believers with a thumping of Florida for the whole country to see

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Some notable facts from LSU's dominant victory at Florida:

  • The Gators' six-game winning streak against the Tigers is over, as is a three-game stretch in Gainesville.
  • LSU has now won at Florida just three times in the last two decades.
  • First time LSU football and basketball have won at Florida in the same academic calendar year since 1982-83.
  • First time the Tigers have won two of their first three conference games on the road since 2008-09.

So there was just a little bit of history for LSU to contend with here. And credit to the Tigers every step of the way, as they totally and completely handled business to restore a nice chunk of confidence going forward. If you can win at Ole Miss and Florida in this league, you can win anywhere except maybe Rupp.

More importantly, it was how the Tigers got it done. Faced with the daunting possibly of another lead thrown away, this time after being up a whopping 17, LSU never let it get that far. When UF had all the momentum and the ball down 10 after a 7-0 run, the Tigers got a stop. They ripped off five straight points. That's how maturing teams finish things off. I'd still like to seem them do it when it's a two-possession game in the final minutes, but not letting it reach that point in the first place is also the mark of improvement.

I wrote in the preview that this isn't a vintage Florida team, and I don't think anyone who watched the game could disagree. The Gators were punchless on offense and it honestly felt like they were the outmanned team using a gimmicky press to keep up. Which is so strange to think about. Still, UF appeared healthy and getting its act together but LSU made a clear statement to the SEC about who's on the come up.

The game started somewhat strangely, as Josh Gray had sudden flashbacks to his Missouri struggles, turning the ball over carelessly to hand the home team some easy buckets. Other than that, LSU broke Florida's press for transition buckets and used 3-point shooting to hold on to a 5-point lead that felt tenuous, despite Jordan Mickey missing five minutes with foul trouble.

And the first minutes of the second half followed a similar script, with the Tigers clearly in command but never able to put Florida away. That changed fast with a 14-2 LSU run in barely three minutes, punctuated by two 3-balls and a stunningly beautiful bounce pass from Tim Quarterman to Jordan Mickey for a fast-break dunk. Overall, Quarterman either scored or assisted on 10 of the 14 points LSU scored in that defining sequence.

Otherwise, LSU got its offense from the usual suspects. Special shout to Jarell Martin, who had 22 points and continues to develop an assertive and versatile offensive game. He showed a nationwide ESPN audience his array of mid-range jumpers, nifty finishes at the rim, powerful transition dunks and even a perimeter game. He's clearly become option No. 1 on this offense, and a 7-8 outing at the foul stripe is the cherry on top.

Meanwhile, Mickey seemed to have a completely nondescript game. And he still finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, a block and maybe most importantly, a single turnover. Cannot complain there. Quarterman finished with 15, including a perfect night at the line. Keith Hornsby drilled some crucial 3-pointers that held the Gators at arm's length when times got tight late in the first half and midway through the defining second period. Jalyn Patterson continues to stretch the defense just enough, adding a couple treys of his own.

It really felt like a complete effort all around, from coaching right on down to executing to coming through down the stretch. You can't build everything off of a winning at a 10-8 Florida team. But the fact remains, LSU went on the road to a reigning Final Four team who was tied for 2nd in the league and shot a 52/61/94 line from the field, beyond the arc and at the free-throw line. The Tigers assisted on 17 of their 27 made field goals.

The team responded every way you could ask of them. As I put it in tennis terms on Twitter, LSU won a break point with this game and now they need to "consolidate" it by taking care of business at Vanderbilt, at home against South Carolina and at Mississippi State to close out January. None of those teams are in the top 100 of the RPI, but neither was Missouri.

Time to translate games like this one into something consistent.