By KURT VOIGT, Associated Press
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Kevaughn Allen was more focused on avoiding another late-game collapse than he was delivering another bit of heartbreak in his home state.
The Florida senior managed to do both in his final return to his native Arkansas on Wednesday night, scoring 18 points and delivering the game-sealing free throws in the final seconds of the Gators 57-51 win over the Razorbacks.
The win is the third straight and fifth in the last six games in Fayetteville for the Gators (9-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), who were coming off a home loss to South Carolina last week — a game in which they led by 14 points with 11 minutes remaining.
Florida led by 16 points with 9:13 remaining against Arkansas (10-4, 1-1), only to see that lead shrink to 53-51 with under a minute remaining. Allen, originally from Arkansas, hit four free throws in the final 12 seconds to secure the win for the Gators and finished 11 of 12 from the line.
“Overall, to bounce back from the really heartbreaking loss we had Saturday and come in here and have some of the same hurdles we had to overcome, feels good of course,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Any time you win here, we’ll take it.”
Noah Locke also finished in double figures with 10 points for Florida, which held Arkansas to just 30 percent (15 of 50) shooting. Allen scored 11 first-half points as Florida built a 33-22 halftime lead, and the Gators appeared well on their way to a comfortable victory.
However, after much of the Bud Walton Arena crowd had left the building, the Razorbacks rallied and cut the Florida lead to 53-51 lead after a pair of free throws by Mason Jones — who finished with a career-high 30 points in the loss. Arkansas then kept the Gators from scoring on the other end and had two shots at the tie, with Adrio Bailey misfiring on a point-blank putback and Florida getting the ball back with 12 seconds remaining.
Allen was then fouled and capped his final homecoming with his four free throws to secure the victory, improving to 5-1 in his career against the Razorbacks.
“(Allen) was the best player on the court, I thought,” White said. “… Kevaughn was our best player tonight. He was really good.”
Jones topped his previous best of 21 points, a mark he had reached twice this year during his first season with the Razorbacks. The sophomore finished 7 of 13 from the field and 12 of 13 on free throws, and the rest of Arkansas players were a combined 8 of 37 (21.6 percent) from the field in the loss.
“I haven’t ever seen so many air balls,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “… I think we’re a much, much better basketball team than we showed tonight.”
Razorbacks standout Daniel Gafford played with four fouls for much of the second half and finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.
Florida was in desperate need of a win on Wednesday after opening SEC play with a home loss to South Carolina, a game in which the Gators let a 14-point lead with 11 minutes remaining slip away. A loss against the Razorbacks would have had Florida facing the real possibility of an 0-3 start to conference play with No. 3 Tennessee visiting Gainesville on deck — and two road games after that.
While Jones was nearly perfect on free throws in the loss, the rest of the Razorbacks were just 3 of 13 from the line. “People were just off tonight,” Jones said.
Florida entered 10th in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 60.7 points per game. The Gators showed their defensive prowess throughout on Wednesday, pressuring an Arkansas team that hit only three of its first 15 shots and never recovered from the field.
Florida hosts the Volunteers on Saturday.
The Razorbacks host LSU on Saturday.
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