NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Keyontae Johnson scored a career-high 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds Thursday as No. 8 seed Florida snapped a three-game skid by defeating No. 9 seed Arkansas 66-50 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday.
Johnson, a freshman, recorded his second career-double. His 12 rebounds were one off his career high.
The Gators (18-14) advance to a Friday quarterfinal against No. 9 LSU (26-5), the No. 1 seed in this tournament. Florida won 82-77 at LSU on Feb. 20 but lost to the Tigers 79-78 at home on March 6, with both those games requiring overtime.
Arkansas failed to make a basket in the game’s final 7 minutes, 54 seconds.
Florida and Arkansas entered the tournament heading in opposite directions, though only the slumping Gators had a realistic shot at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. At the start of the day, Florida was 33rd and Arkansas 63rd in the NET rankings, which have replaced the RPI as a criterion for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Arkansas (17-15) had followed up a six-game losing streak by winning its last three regular-season contests to go back above .500. Florida had won five straight in late February before ending the regular season with three consecutive losses.
Florida turned things around Thursday in part because leading scorer KeVaughn Allen broke out of his personal slump.
Allen had scored a total of 18 points in his last four regular-season games, but the graduate of North Little Rock (Arkansas) High School scored 17 points Thursday against his home-state school.
Florida was clinging to a 47-44 lead when Allen took a 3-point shot that bounced off the rim a few times before falling through with 7:26 remaining. That 3-point shot started a 17-4 run that helped Florida seal the victory.
Daniel Gafford scored 15 points and Isaiah Joe added 12 for Arkansas.
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Arkansas had shot 29 of 56 from 3-point range during its three-game winning streak to end the regular season, but the Razorbacks were just 4 of 16 from beyond the arc Thursday.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were unable to do anything against Florida’s defense again. Arkansas’ 50 points Thursday represented a season low. The Razorbacks’ lowest point total during the regular season came in a 57-51 loss to Florida on Jan. 9.
Florida: The Gators likely needed to win this game to have any realistic hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Gators seem in better shape to earn a bid now, but they could remove just about all doubt by knocking off LSU.
Arkansas awaits a possible NIT invitation.
Florida faces LSU in an SEC quarterfinal Friday.
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