GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The LSU men’s basketball team had a chance for its first 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference play in a decade when it faced Florida on Saturday afternoon.
But after beating Vanderbilt on the road and thrashing No. 9 Kentucky on Tuesday to start 2-0 in the league for the first time under fourth-year coach Johnny Jones, the Tigers came up short Saturday and fell 68-62.
The 2006 team coached by John Brady, which started 3-0 with wins at Arkansas and Mississippi State sandwiched around a victory at home over Tennessee, won its next four as well. The Tigers won the league and advanced to the Final Four.
Recipe for a loss
Jones’ team went into the game leading the SEC in field-goal percentage at 47.8 percent, while Florida was last in the 14-team league at 41.6 percent.
The roles were reversed when Florida barely out-shot LSU.
The Gators were still below their season average in shooting 38.1 percent, making 24-of-63 field-goal attempts, but LSU was well off the mark, connecting on just 35.7 percent from the field in going 20-of-56.
It was LSU’s second-worst shooting game this season; it hit 31.1 percent in a 70-58 loss at the College of Charleston on Nov. 30. It didn’t help that LSU committed 17 turnovers to Florida’s six.
Bad times in Gainesville
LSU’s opportunity to win a second consecutive game in the O’Connell Center for the first time in nearly a quarter century also went by the wayside.
After blowing out the Gators 79-61 on Jan. 20, 2015, the Tigers could never get over the hump Saturday.
The last time LSU won two games in a row in the Gators’ backyard was in 1991 and ’92 — Shaquille O’Neal’s final two seasons with the Tigers. Since then, LSU was only 4-7 in Gainesville.
LSU play-by-play announcer Jim Hawthorne, who is retiring at the end of the season, was honored before tipoff.
Florida play-by-play man Mick Hubert brought Hawthorne to midcourt and presented his counterpart with a framed picture of an alligator lurking with its head just above the water.
The inscription read, “From The Bayou to The Swamp and beyond. Congratulations on a storied career.”
Hubert told Hawthorne, who has been behind the microphone for 3½ decades, that Hawthorne is the last announcer still working to call a game from “Alligator Alley,” the Gators’ cramped gym that closed in 1980.
No lineup changes
After using five different starting lineups in a row earlier in the season, Jones sent out a unit of Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Antonio Blakeney, Craig Victor and Ben Simmons for the sixth consecutive time.
That group was 4-1 going into the game.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.