NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the LSU and Florida basketball teams, Part III, wasn’t destined to go to overtime like their first two meetings this season.
Not in Andrew Nembhard’s mind anyway.
With the clock ticking down in a tie game, Florida’s freshman point guard rose up and hoisted a 3-point shot that hit nothing but net with 1.2 seconds to play to give his team a 76-73 win over No. 9 and top-seeded LSU on Friday in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.
It was a fitting end to a game Florida might have used to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, which begins Tuesday.
Fitting because the Gators put on an unusual offensive display in the second half when they scored 51 points, more than doubling their 25-point first-half output.
After scoring 29 points in the first 23½ minutes Friday, Florida (19-15) turned it on and exploded for 45 points in the final 16½ minutes to take down LSU (26-6) and reach Saturday’s semifinals against Auburn, which defeated South Carolina 73-64.
With the loss, the Tigers, who led by as many as 13 points in each half, must wait until 5 p.m. Sunday to learn their seeding as well as where and when they’ll play in the NCAA tournament.
Florida and LSU split their two regular-season matchups, winning on each other’s floor in overtime.
But after Naz Reid tied the game at 73 with a 3-pointer with 13.2 seconds left, a pair of Florida freshmen — Keyontae Johnson and Nembhard — combined to make the play that shocked LSU.
Johnson dribbled the ball into the corner, then kicked it out to Nembhard, who calmly knocked down the shot that sunk the Tigers.
“He made the shot … he’s a good player,” Reid said. “Obviously, good players are going to do things like that.”
If the game had gone to overtime again, there was a good chance Reid might have had his opportunity to do what Nembhard did.
Reid, who had 26 points and 14 rebounds, buried two long 3-pointers in the final minute, each time eraing a three-point deficit, to give his team a chance.
He tied it at 70 with 1:00 remaining after getting an offensive rebound on a Skylar Mays miss, and did it again just seconds after Tremont Waters almost committed a costly mistake letting the ball roll on the court untouched.
Waters was tied up by Florida’s Jalen Hudson, but LSU had the possession arrow and retained the ball for Reid to knot the score nine seconds later. But all that set up Nembhard’s clutch shot.
Nembhard’s 20 points topped Florida, which got 16 points from Johnson and 13 from Hudson. KeVaughn Allen added 12 and Kevarrius Hayes 11 for a team that was averaging 68.2 points a game going into Friday's contest.
Reid, who scored 17 of his 26 points after halftime, was one of only two Tigers in double figures along with Javonte Smart, who had 13.
Smart was cleared to play two hours before tipoff after university officials, in concert with the NCAA, investigated reports of him being on FBI wiretaps that had coach Will Wade talking about a deal for a player he was recruiting in June 2017.
LSU, which was up three with four minutes to play after a monster dunk by Mays, had to fight back from a six-point Florida possession with 3:45 left.
Johnson hit a 3-pointer and Reid was called for a foul when he pushed Hayes. That caused LSU interim coach Tony Benford, who thought the foul came before the shot, to draw a technical.
“I probably shouldn’t have gotten the ‘T,’ looking back on it,” Benford said. “Everybody around me said it was after the whistle. They counted the 3 … I was confused by that. Not count the shot, move on, take the ball out. I just questioned (the official) about that.”
Florida then hit 3 of 4 free throws for a 66-63 lead. LSU temporarily regained the lead 40 seconds later on another loud Mays dunk.
But Nembhard wasn’t finished, with six points down the stretch — including the game-winner.
“It was just a great shot; we must have had a defensive breakdown,” Mays said. “I didn’t really get a good view, but he hit an open shot.
"It’s a huge shot from a freshman who’s a great player. Credit to them … I guess today wasn’t the day (for an overtime).”