MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 17 Florida is glad to be done with early starts.
Even though coach Mike White switched up the team’s routine Saturday and let players sleep in, the Gators turned in another sluggish performance.
Justin Leon scored 18 points, Canyon Barry added 12 and Florida overcame a lackluster start to beat Texas A&M 71-62.
John Egbunu notched his first double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds and then getting the game ball from White, as the Gators (20-5, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) won their sixth consecutive game. After winning each of the last five by double digits, this one was considerably closer than most expected.
“Brain dead is (being) kind,” White said. “We’ll take it. You learn from every game, positively and negatively. When you learn some of the things about yourself that you didn’t do so well and you can still come out with a win against a really good team, that’s a positive in and of itself. We were very fortunate.”
The Aggies (13-11, 5-7) led 42-41 midway through the second half and looked like they might get their first win in five tries against a ranked team this season. But Florida used a 24-10 run to take the lead and pull away. It started and ended with 3-pointers by Leon, who finished one point shy of tying his career high.
The senior made 7 of 15 shots, including four from behind the arc.
“Huge,” White said. “This was the second or third one that if Justin doesn’t sprint into a couple of 3s, we probably don’t do enough offensively. … He’s turned himself into a shooter.”
Barry provided a spark off the bench against Texas A&M’s constantly changing defense and made all four of his under-handed free throws to break a school record. He has made 39 in a row, topping the former mark (37) set by Taurean Green during the 2005-06 season.
“Trying to keep it rolling, trying to get to 90 percent,” Barry said. “I think I’m close now hopefully, but just step to the line, have confidence every time. It doesn’t really mean much. I just care about winning, getting these guys ready for the next game.”
Chris Chiozza was the fourth Florida player in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Robert Williams led the Aggies with 18 points and 12 rebounds, the freshman’s seventh double-double of the season.
Texas A&M’s undoing was 20 turnovers. It surely didn’t help that the Aggies made 4 of 18 from 3-point range and finished with just nine assists.
“You can’t turn it over 20 times, miss layups around the basket and win,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have a talented frontcourt and really took it to the Gators inside, finishing with 30 points in the paint. But they have less depth in the backcourt, and it showed.
Florida: The Gators played their third early start in the last five Saturdays and struggled again. Florida needed overtime to beat Georgia on Jan. 14 and lost to Vanderbilt on Jan. 21. The Gators led by 11 early against the Aggies, looking like they had solved their early start issues, but went into a lethargic stretch that allowed Texas A&M back in it. White tried a lighter practice Thursday and no early morning shootaround on game day. It didn’t really work.
Texas A&M plays at Vanderbilt on Thursday.
Florida plays at Auburn on Tuesday, looking for a seventh straight win that would be the longest in White’s two seasons.
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