GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida let a 10-point first half lead slip away, but opened the second half with a big run to put away Alabama, 78-69, in a Southeastern Conference game on Saturday.
The third-ranked Gators extended their home winning streak to 29 games, including 14 SEC wins in a row at the O’Connell Center dating to last season.
Florida, one win shy of its best SEC start ever, placed five players in double figures and are two wins from matching the longest winning streak in school history.
It won’t come easy, playing at Tennessee on Tuesday and Kentucky on Saturday.
The Gators (21-2 overall, 10-0 in the SEC) trailed, 41-39, with 18:48 left in the game after the fourth 3-pointer of the game by guard Trevor Releford of Alabama, who finished with 25 points.
That’s when Florida started its game-winning march, a 17-3 run highlighted by two 3-pointers by guard Scottie Wilbekin, who finished with 16 points.
Center Patric Young, who scored 11 points, had a basket inside and a free throw to put Florida head for good, 42-41, with 17:58 to play.
Forward Casey Prather’s basket was followed by 3-pointers by Michael Frazier II, who had 13 points on the day, and Wilbekin, and the nine-point cushion would prove to be more than enough.
Freshman forward Chris Walker, in his second college game, had two baskets to help build a 54-44 lead with under 11 minutes to go. Walker was not ruled eligible to play until this week by the NCAA.
It was Florida’s first double-digit lead since starting the game with its 14-4 run.
Prather, who had 15 points and 6 rebounds, followed with layup for the Gators’ largest lead to that point, 56-44, with 10:31 to play. The bucket finished off the 17-3 run.
The Gators have the second-best record in school history, as the 2006-07 team had a 24-2 mark.
Florida’s overall winning streak is 15 in a row, two short of the school record, achieved three times in program history.
The Gators opened the game with a 14-4 surge, but thanks to Releford, who had 16 points in the first half, Alabama kept fighting back.
The score was tied, 18-18, when a mini-run pushed the Crimson Tide ahead, 25-19, on a 3-pointer by guard Rodney Cooper.
Alabama (9-14, 3-7) caused some uncomfortable moments in the first 20 minutes for the Gators’ crowd, taking a 31-26 lead after Releford’s second of three buckets from behind the arc with 4:21 left.
But Florida pulled even by halftime, 36-36, with forward Will Yeguete, who matched his season high with 12 points in the first half alone, scored Florida’s last three baskets.
Florida shot 65.2 percent in the first half, but Alabama also shot a shade under 61 percent, getting 13 bench points to only two for the Gators, to stay in the game.
Florida had 26 points in the paint in the first half.
The Gators made eight of their first 13 shots in the second half, while the Crimson Tide turned the ball over five times in the first nine minutes to help ignite Florida’s winning rally.
NOTES: Florida came into the weekend as one of 11 teams in the nation unbeaten in conference play. … Alabama has lost six of its last seven games, including its last four in a row. … Coach Billy Donovan of Florida is 14-2 against former assistants. Tide coach Anthony Grant has lost all eight of those meetings.
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