Locke ties career high with 18, Florida beats Mercer 71-63

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Noah Locke scored 18 points, tying his career high, and carried Florida to a 71-63 victory against Mercer on Tuesday night.

Locke made 6 of 13 shots, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range, and was one of three Gators players to reach double figures. KeVaughn Allen added 15 points off the bench, and Andrew Nembhard chipped in 10.

Locke’s 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer put Florida (6-4) up six. He had two more treys early in the second half that helped give the Gators build a double-digit lead. Isaiah Stokes had consecutive points in the paint, including a nifty hook shot, that made it 52-40. Stone followed a few minutes later with a 3 that pushed it to 13.

The Gators coasted from there — at least until Mercer made it interesting in the final minutes. Ethan Stair’s steal and layup cut Florida’s lead to 60-54 with 1:22 to play, but Florida closed it out from the free-throw line. Nembhard made all four attempts down the stretch, and Allen sealed the game with four more in the final 30 seconds.

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Kevarrius Hayes chipped in eight points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for Florida. Nembhard added four rebounds and seven assists.

Ross Cummings led Mercer (4-7) with 18 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Jaylen Stowe added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Bears, who have lost four in a row and five of six. Marcus Cohen chipped in 10 points.

It was Florida’s third win in four games and a bounce-back effort following a four-point loss at home to then-No. 10 Michigan State.

The Gators have two more games before beginning Southeastern Conference play, but neither is a gimme. They play Florida Gulf Coast, which has made the NCAA Tournament in three of the last six years, and get a rematch against Butler. The Bulldogs beat the Gators in the Battle for Atlantis tournament last month.

Florida beat Mercer with a solid performance on both ends. The Gators shot 42 percent and hit 12 shots from behind the arc. They held Mercer to 41 percent shooting and blocked seven shots.

THE TAKEAWAY

Mercer: Despite losing a fourth straight game, the Bears kept it tight and even led late in the first half. Picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference, Mercer has shown potential with a four-point loss at North Carolina State and then another close one at Florida.

Florida: Jalen Hudson’s curious season continues. The fifth-year senior was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 21, but he missed five of his first six shots — including all three from 3-point range — and was a non-factor down the stretch. After averaging a career-best 15.5 points as a junior, he’s getting 5.8 as a senior and appears to lack confidence.

UP NEXT

Mercer returns home to host UNC Wilmington on Friday.

Florida plays Florida Gulf Coast in the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday in Sunrise.

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