GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Joakim Noah and Al Horford get lots of hype for Florida for the way they dominate in the paint. Lee Humphrey’s 3-point shooting draws plenty of attention. And Corey Brewer gets credit for his stellar all-around game.
As for point guard Taurean Green, he’s the guy who makes the Gators go.
Green scored 20 points in the second half and the Gators overcame an 18-point deficit to beat the 25th-ranked Crimson Tide 76-67 on Wednesday night and extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games.
“Taurean Green is the best point guard in the country,” Brewer said. “When he gets it going, it’s over.”
The Gators were down 22-4 early in the first half and 42-31 at the break. Not coincidentally, Green was 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half.
He was a different player after halftime—and Florida looked much more like the defending national champion.
Green, the team’s leading scorer and the son of former NBA player Sidney Green, made six of seven attempts in the second half and helped rally the Gators (24-2, 11-0 Southeastern Conference), who matched a school record for consecutive wins set last season.
“He really opened up the game for us,” coach Billy Donovan said.
The Tide (18-7, 5-6), which dropped to 1-5 on the road in conference play, shot 37 percent in the second half and seemed fatigued on defense as Florida made 14 of 22 shots.
“In the second half, I thought Florida enforced their will on us and that is why they are a great team,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said.
Richard Hendrix led the Tide with 16 points and eight rebounds. Alonzo Gee added 15 points.
The Gators have been down by double digits several times this season— possibly a product of getting every team’s best shot—but they have bounced back each time with a strong second-half start.
This was no different.
Florida, thanks partly to consecutive layups from Green, used a 14-4 run to make it 52-51 with 11 minutes to play. Brewer finished a steal with a reverse layup about a minute later, and Green hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Gators their first lead of the night, 56-54.
The teams exchanged baskets down the stretch, but Green took over in the closing minutes. He hit another 3 with 2:08 remaining, then made all six free throws in the final 1:25 to seal the victory.
Green finished 6-of-13 from the field and had three assists, two rebounds and one turnover.
“None of us were on track in the first half,” Green said. “We had good looks. They just didn’t fall in. Coach told us to keep shooting. … Anything can happen. We didn’t make anything in the first half, but we kept our composure, grinded it out, played good defense, got some stops.”
Brewer added 16 points, while Joakim Noah and Al Horford were relatively quiet. Noah had 10 points and eight rebounds, and Horford had 12 points and six boards.
But Green has been Florida’s barometer. When he struggles, the Gators usually do, too.
When he’s on, Florida is almost impossible to stop.
“He’s got that stuff about him,” Donovan said. “He has got huge guts. He’s got huge courage, and he’s not afraid. He’s got a great will to want to win. Hopefully I can contribute to his confidence level.”
The Gators hardly looked like the top team in the country—or even the conference—early in the first half.
They had three turnovers in their first four possessions, missed seven of their first eight shots and gave up way too many easy baskets to Davidson and Richard.
The Tide made 10 of its first 12 shots and finished the first half with five 3-pointers—nearly as many as the team averaged in its first 10 conference games.
Florida trailed 22-4 with about 13 minutes to play in the opening half, but got it to 39-31 in the closing minute thanks to a series of big plays from Marreese Speights. The freshman was 4-for-4 shooting in eight minutes, making two layups, a left-handed hook shot and a turnaround bank shot in the lane. He also had a big block that gave his teammates—especially Green—a lift heading into the locker room.
“We’re a team that we taste blood,” Noah said. “When the blood is out we’re like vampires. We’re going to get that. And I think that’s our mentality. We taste blood, and when we taste blood, that’s when it’s scary.”