COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Texas A&M didn’t enjoy having to fight off Florida until the very last seconds Tuesday night.
However, the 15th-ranked Aggies know that winning games like this will help them as they get deeper into the season.
Jalen Jones scored 26 points and Danuel House added 22 to help the Aggies outlast Florida 71-68 for their seventh straight win.
Florida (10-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) never led after halftime but tied it twice and never let the Aggies pull away.
“When you get later down in conference the games are going to get even tougher, and this game right here is going to prepare us for the end of the season and for other games past that,” Jones said.
Dorian Finney-Smith made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 67-66 with 26 seconds left. Anthony Collins made two free throws and Florida got within one point again on a basket by Chris Chiozza with 11 seconds left. The Gators were forced to foul again and Collins made two more free throws to extend the lead to three.
John Egbunu fouled as the Gators brought the ball down the court giving A&M (14-2, 4-0) the ball back. But Chiozza’s steal gave Florida a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but his shot bounced off the rim.
“We couldn’t put them away,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “They were active. They were aggressive. They’re hard to score against. I’m just thankful we came away with a win.”
Finney-Smith led the Gators with 17 points and Justin Leon had 16.
A&M’s 4-0 record in SEC play is its best league start since going 4-0 to open Big 12 play in 2006-07. The Aggies are 10-0 at home this season and their seven-game winning streak is the longest since winning 13 straight in 2010-11.
“It feels very great for our confidence,” Jones said. “We feel like we’re the best team in the SEC and we just try to play like that every night.”
The Aggies led by 10 points after a 3-pointer by Jones with about 8 minutes left. Florida scored the next eight points, three from Kasey Hill, to cut the lead to 59-57.
Florida cut the lead to four on a tip-in by Hill with a minute left and looked to have a sure basket on a fast break by him a few seconds later. But Alex Caruso sprinted in from behind and blocked his shot out of bounds. The Gators got the ball back and Finney-Smith made the 3-pointer that got them within one.
The game was tied when House scored five quick points to give A&M a 45-40 lead with about 15 minutes left. He got the crowd going soon after that on a dunk off an alley-oop from Anthony Collins that left A&M up 47-44.
Florida’s KeVaughn Allen, who averages 10.5 points a game, was held scoreless and was most often guarded by Caruso.
“I’d like to credit Alex Caruso,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Alex Caruso will just blow up a play. He kind of throws you off your rhythm offensively.”
Florida: Leon was shaken up when he was knocked to the court on a Flagrant 1 foul by Jones early in the second half. He got up after a couple of minutes and stayed in the game. … Chiozza finished with 12 points and eight assists. … Florida’s bench outscored A&M’s 15-6.
Texas A&M: Caruso had seven assists and seven rebounds. … A&M scored 21 points off 16 turnovers by Florida. … Freshman Tyler Davis had eight points, five rebounds and three steals.
FREE THROW WOES
Florida entered the game last in the SEC shooting just 61.6 percent from the free throw line and Tuesday’s performance only made that number worse. They made just 4 of 12 while A&M hit 20 of 30 from the line.
“I’m at a loss in terms of free throws and our approach on how we move forward and shoot better … maybe we just stop shooting them in practice,” White said.
To mark Florida’s visit the Aggies had a live alligator at the game. The 9-foot gator was part of a show put on in a pen in the concourse before the game from the Gator Country Rescue in Beaumont, Texas. The facility houses what they call nuisance alligators that have been captured from people’s yards or ponds. Hundreds of people crowded around to watch as the trainer took the muzzle off the alligator’s mouth and kissed him on the nose.
Florida: Visits Mississippi on Saturday.
Texas A&M: Visits Georgia on Saturday
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