Florida hits 3 with second left to upset No. 9 LSU 76-73
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By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Florida Gators finally figured out how to avoid overtime against LSU.
For that, they could soon be receiving a very nice reward.
Andrew Nembhard hit a 3-pointer with a second left, and Florida rallied from 13 down in the second half Friday to upset the ninth-ranked Tigers 76-73 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
The win likely took the Gators (19-14) off the bubble and secured them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
And troubled LSU (26-6) now has a long weekend to wait and see how the loss will impact its seeding come Selection Sunday.
With the game tied at 73, freshman Keyontae Johnson had the ball when he saw LSU forward Naz Reid sliding into position to take a charge. Johnson passed to Nembhard, who was open at the top of the key for the winner.
"I just had confidence in him," Johnson said. "I'm glad he hit it."
After a chaotic week that included the banishment of their coach, the SEC regular-season champs tried to make one last play to salvage their opening game at the SEC Tournament. Will Reese threw the ball deep to Reid, but he couldn't catch it, and the buzzer sounded.
That prevented the third overtime this season between these teams, and sent the Tigers home, where they'll attempt to get ready for next week despite all the uncertainty surrounding the program.
Coach Will Wade remained suspended for Friday's game in the wake of a report that he'd been caught on a wiretap talking with a person convicted of funneling money to the families of basketball recruits.
Guard Javonte Smart was back in the lineup after missing one game as a result of the report. The school said he was reinstated after cooperating with a "joint inquiry" with the school and the NCAA.
Smart scored 13 points, but it wasn't enough. And LSU clearly could've used Wade, who remains out because he has not agreed to speak with school officials.
Interim head coach Tony Benford hurt the Tigers by picking up a technical that led to a six-point play for Florida for a 66-63 lead with 3:45 left. Benford also went to a 1-3-1 defense in the final seconds that gave the Gators more room to operate for the winning shot.
"Unfortunately, I probably shouldn't have gotten the T, looking back on it," Benford said.
The Tigers accepted their regular-season-champion trophy from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey before tipoff. It was a subdued ceremony; guard Tremont Waters insisted the drama of the past week hasn't been a distraction.
"At the end of the day, people are going to talk regardless," Waters said. "We heard stuff about this season. We heard stuff today. I personally wasn't listening for it. I don't care. We just got to move forward and keep pushing."
Trailing by 13, Florida clawed back into the game by hitting eight straight shots and 10 of 11. Jalen Hudson made a pair of free throws with 6:05 left to give Florida its first lead of the game at 58-57, setting up a frantic finish.
Reid, who finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds, hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to tie it at 70, and again at 73 with 13.2 seconds left. Then Johnson found Nembhard for the winning 3.
Nembhard said he had no time to do anything more than catch and shoot.
"I'm happy it went down for sure," said Nembhard, who finished with 20 points and was one of five Gators in double figure.
The freshman guard was held out of LSU's win over Vanderbilt to close the regular season and didn't learn until about 9:45 a.m. Friday that he could play again. Asked if he had any knowledge of the offer Wade reportedly discussed on the FBI wiretap, Smart said no.
"I have nothing to do with that," Smart said.
Florida: The Gators' 3-point shooting woes, which contributed to their three-game skid to end the regular season, surfaced again. They went 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) in the first half outside the arc, a number made worse considering they shot more from the outside than inside the arc. But the Gators kept shooting 3s and went 6 of 13 in the second half.
LSU: The Tigers will have a complaint about the discrepancy in foul calls with 24 on LSU compared to 10 for the Gators. The Tigers didn't even go to the free throw line in the first half despite having a 26-10 scoring edge in the paint. They wound up shooting 7 of 11 at the line while Florida was 16 of 26.
"I can't get into that," Benford said. "We're not going to get any calls. I heard guys (say) when there's an interim coach, you're not getting any calls."
Florida: Semifinal vs. Auburn on Saturday.
LSU: Hoping for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA bracket.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
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Updated March 15, 2019