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Johnn Egbunu returning to Florida

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Florida received good news on Friday evening, as starting center John Egbunu has elected to return to Gainesville for his final season of eligibility, the program announced.

“I’m a Florida Gator in my heart, so I wanted another chance to come back and be a Gator,” Egbunu said in a statement. “I’ve graduated from here, and I love playing here, being a part of the culture and being with my teammates – it’s a fun team to be around. It’s also a chance for me to continue to improve and grow as a player and help the team, however, I can. And I can’t forget to mention how great it is to play in front of the Rowdies and all of our Gator fans.”

The 6-foot-11 center, who recently earned his undergraduate degree, had declared for the NBA Draft this spring.

Egbunu missed the final 10 games of the season, including Florida’s Elite Eight run, after tearing his ACL in a win over Auburn on February 14. The recovery was expected to take 10-12 months. The team hopes to get him back by mid-January.

He averaged 7.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

The return of Egbunu, even if it isn’t until the start of conference play, is still a huge boost for the Gators. Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, and Kevarrius Hayes all return. Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov has joined the program, filling a scoring need after Caynon Barry exhausted his eligibility and Devin Robinson decided to pursue professional options.

NBC Sports has Florida as a top-10 team entering the 2017-18 season.

Egor Koulechov transfers to Florida, eligible immediately

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Florida reportedly landed one of the most sought after transfers on the market on Tuesday night.

According to Evan Daniels of Scout, Egor Koulechov has committed to the Gators. The Russian swingman began his career at Arizona State before transferring to Rice. He is on track to graduate, making him immediately eligible to play next season.

He picked Florida over Oklahoma.

“I just believe there’s great opportunity there,” he told Daniels. “I have a lot of faith in the staff at Florida. I really do. It’s a good team. They have high aspirations. I went to high school in south Florida. It just feels right. That connection is there. I had a great connection with the coaching staff there. I just really believe they have great coaches and I believe we can make that jump next year.”

The 6-foot-5 Koulechov averaged 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from three, this past season for the Owls.

Canyon Barry exhausted his eligibility at the conclusion of Florida’s Elite Eight run. Devin Robinson has declared for and will remain, in the NBA Draft after signing with an agent. Those two losses required Mike White to add some scoring pop around KeVaughn Allen. In addition to Allen, who led the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, the Gators also return Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes, and John Egbunu.

Following Mike Rhoades decision to fill the VCU head coaching vacancy, Rice lost four of its top five scorers from this past season. Marcus Evans followed Rhoades to VCU, Marcus Jackson will be a graduate transfer at UC Santa Barbara and Marquez Letcher-Ellis will sit out next year at Nevada.

Florida is projected as a top-10 team next season by NBC Sports.

NCAA Tournament: Steve Forbes tells team “great Florida … ain’t coming out of that tunnel” (VIDEO)

AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes had a message for his team before their game against Florida. He wanted them, as a 13-seed, not to conflate this Florida team, a four-seed, with the Gator program that won back-to-back titles a decade ago.

Forbes reminded his Buccaneers that Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer are now in the NBA, not in the Florida locker room.

“I know the difference between good and great,” Forbes said. “I’ve seen great Florida, and I’ve seen good Florida. Understand this. Noah, Horford and Brewer, they ain’t coming out of that tunnel. They ain’t coming out of that tunnel today.

“They’re coming out of that tunnel with guys just like you.”

Forbes has been mentioned as a potential candidate for higher-level jobs this spring, and he might warrant it just on the strength of this blend of trash and pep talk.

No. 13 Florida continues hot streak with win over South Carolina

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Things keep rolling for Florida, all the way to a nine-game winning streak and a de facto SEC regular season championship game in Lexington this weekend.

The Gators’ offense was lethally efficient and its defense stout in their 81-66 over South Carolina on Tuesday to likely end the Gamecocks’ long-shot SEC title aspirations while seriously bolstering their own chances.

Florida did its damage offensively in some of the most productive ways possible. The Gators connected from deep and converted from the free-throw line.  From distance, they were 9 of 19 (47.4 percent), and from the charity stripe, they were 22 of 27 (81.5 percent). That’s a winning formula almost every night out.

Maybe most encouraging for Florida was the return to dynamism of KeVaughn Allen. The sophomore guard had his best game in weeks, going 5 of 7 from the field – including 3 of 5 from distance – and got to the line for 14 attempts, making 13. Allen hasn’t been able to get to the free-throw line with a ton of consistency – his free-throw rate is only 23.7 – but he has shown some flashes of forcing his way there recently with 14 tonight and 10 a week ago at Auburn. If he can even approach those numbers with regularity, it’ll be a huge boon for the 87.5 percent free-throw shooter. It should be a priority for him.

The offensive outburst by Allen and the Gators at large was especially impressive coming against a South Carolina team that possesses one of the country’s stingiest defenses. The Gamecocks are typically great at making life at the 3-point arc difficult for opponents, but Florida shredded them there.

Converting from the 3-point line certainly helped cover for the absence of 6-foot-11 center John Egbunu, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Devin Robinson picked up the most slack inside, blocking three shots and grabbing six rebounds, and South Carolina wasn’t really able to do much damage on the offensive glass.

With its defense taking an atypical beating, South Carolina’s offense exhibited the issues that have plagued it all season long. The Gamecocks were 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range, and the lack of threats along the arc shrunk their spacing and allowed Florida to harass them inside. If the offense is going to be stifled – which it probably will be more often than not with an average effective field goal percentage ranked outside the top-300 nationally – the defense has to be elite, which it was far from against Florida.

South Carolina now finds itself in a bit of a precarious, if manageable, position. The Gamecocks have lost three-straight, not something a team that is doesn’t have a 100 percent secure position in the NCAA tournament. Yes, South Carolina has a solid resume, but this is sliding in the wrong direction at the worst time. The good news is that the final three games of the regular season – vs. Tennessee, vs. Mississippi State and at Mississippi – are wholly manageable. The bad news is a stumble against any of those teams isn’t going to be looked upon with much favor by the selection committee.

The big picture for Florida is much rosier. The Gators, as noted above, are steamrolling through the final stretch of the season. They’re staking their claim to a top-three tourney seed, and will have a chance to come very close to claiming regular season SEC superiority Saturday as well.

Florida, which blasted Kentucky 88-66 earlier this month, travels to Rupp Arena to take on the No. 11 Wildcats. Both teams will be sporting 13-2 conference records (assuming Kentucky gets by/doesn’t implode at Missouri tonight) with two games left on the schedule after Saturday in which they’ll both be heavy favorites. Even if Kentucky can’t leave Columbia with a win (pause for laughter), a conference championship – whether outright or shared – will be on the line.

It might not garner the same fervor as the one played in December at the Georgia Dome, but there’s going to be a heck of an SEC title game this weekend.

Barry scores 30, No. 15 Florida races past Auburn 114-95

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) With defensive stops hard to come by, Canyon Barry and the Florida Gators simply scored more than they had all season.

Barry scored a season-high 30 points and the 15th-ranked Gators kept up with high-scoring Auburn for a half, then sprinted away to a 114-95 victory Tuesday night.

Known more for their stingy defense, the Gators (21-5, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) blew past their previous scoring high of 106 points en route to a seventh straight win. They dominated after going into halftime locked in a 50-50 tie, coming out of the locker room on a 13-3 run and never looking back despite losing center John Egbunu to a knee injury early.

“It was an odd game to me,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Outside of early second half we never could find a defensive rhythm. They were fantastic offensively. They’re just very difficult to defend. Good thing for us it was one of those nights where we made a bunch of shots. We made a bunch of shots, we made a bunch of free throws.

“Our guys found a way. Obviously a different way than we won any game last year.”

Florida shot 56 percent from the field and made 11 of 19 3-point attempts and 37 of 42 free throws.

Auburn (16-10, 5-8) became the first team to reach its season average in regulation against the Gators, but couldn’t slow them down on the other end.

The game was so dominated by offense that 13 players scored in double figures. It was also easily the most points allowed by a Florida team that came in giving up 65.2 points per game.

“I don’t think our defense was very good,” Barry said. “They weren’t locked in on scouting reports. The first play of the game, we give up a 3-pointer to one of their best shooters (Purifoy).”

Anfernee McLemore led Auburn with a career-high 19 points, T.J. Dunans had 13 and Ronnie Johnson 12.

KeVaughn Allen scored all 17 of his points in the second half for Florida, which had seven players reach 10 points. Devin Robinson added 14. Kasey Hill had 11 points and 12 assists.

Egbunu had 10 points before leaving with a left knee injury midway through the first half. He didn’t return, and White said he didn’t know the nature of the injury. Egbunu is scheduled to have an MRI on Wednesday.

“He was having a heck of a game, too, before he got hurt,” White said.

Barry – who had his made free throw streak end at 42 – made 3 of 5 3-pointers and 11 of 12 foul shots.

“Florida’s a great team,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They’re engaged on both ends of the floor. We got a real treat in seeing Barry play. He’s just a terrific player.”

It’s the first time in nearly two years Auburn has allowed 100 points, the last time against Kentucky on Feb. 21, 2015.

BIG PICTURE

Florida has matched the longest win streak in White’s two seasons. The Gators have won 10 straight meetings, including nine in a row at Auburn.

Auburn hosted Florida for the first time since 2014, with the three meetings since coming in Gainesville. The Tigers allowed 60-plus second-half points for the third straight game. The Tigers started 5 of 6 from 3-point range and made 1 of 15 from there.

STREAK ENDS

Barry’s school-record streak of made free throws ended at 42. Barry, who shoots underhanded like his Hall of Fame father Rick, missed the second of two attempts with 15:20 left in the first half. He still had 13 points in the first 8 minutes.

“You’re going to miss eventually,” Barry said. “Obviously I’d like to make all of them but in basketball and life, you’re not going to.”

UP NEXT

Florida visits Mississippi State on Saturday to continue a stretch with three of four games on the road.

Auburn travels to Texas A&M on Saturday then goes to LSU three days later.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Bacon, Mann lead Florida State past No. 21 Florida, 83-78

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Dwayne Bacon scored 24 points, Terrence Mann added 16 and Florida State held on to beat No. 21 Florida 83-78 on Sunday.

Bacon scored nine points during a 15-4 run early in the second half that helped the Seminoles (10-1) take control after it was tied at 38.

Florida State led by 13 midway through the second half before the Gators (7-3) started to slowly chip away. Florida used a 14-5 run to get within three, but could not get closer.

Kasey Hill scored a career-high 21 points for Florida, and KeVaughn Allen added 15. Hill’s previous high was 20 against North Carolina in 2014.

It is Florida State’s third straight win over its in-state rival, which is the first time that has happened in eight years. It is also the Seminoles’ first victory over a ranked nonconference team at home since they beat the Gators on Dec. 7, 2008.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: Coach Mike White said before the game that he wanted to see his team play with more poise and also play with more consistency when it found itself on the other end of a scoring run. This loss proves that the Gators still have a ways to go in that area before they open Southeastern Conference play Dec. 29 at Arkansas.

Florida State: The Seminoles nearly squandered a 13-point lead. But unlike the Temple game, which they lost by three after leading by 18, they were able to hold on and get their third win in non-conference play against a team from a Power Five conference.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Florida could drop out of the Top 25 after dropping both of its games this week. Florida State was ranked for a week in late November and could make a bid to return after winning six straight.

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators will have their final game of their 11-game road trip to start the season on Saturday against Charlotte in the second game of the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Florida.

Florida State: The Seminoles have finals this week and do not have their next game until Saturday when they face Manhattan in the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Florida.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25