ATHENS — Erving Walker missed two free throws that allowed Georgia to keep the game going.
He sure made up for it in overtime.
Walker hit a 3-pointer from about 30 feet to force a second overtime, and Chandler Parsons took control from there to lead No. 24 Florida to a 104-91 victory over the Bulldogs on Tuesday night, a thrilling game between bitter rivals that was so much closer than the final score indicated.
Georgia rallied from eight points down in the last 3 minutes of regulation, tying it when Trey Thompkins banked in a missed shot just ahead of the buzzer. Walker gave the Bulldogs hope in the final 35 seconds, missing the first attempt of a 1-and-1, then making only 1 of 2 on his next trip to the line.
All was forgiven when he buried the NBA-and-then-some 3 with a single tick left in the first overtime.
“It felt good,” Walker said. “I knew it had a good shot of going in.”
After all that, the finish was anticlimactic. Florida (16-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) scored the first nine points of the second overtime, Georgia (14-5, 3-3) turned it over on consecutive possessions and the Gators coasted to the end, the margin no way indicative of how these teams went at each other.
“That’s not how we planned it, but we showed resilience,” said Parsons, who scored half of his 18 points in the second overtime. “They get a lucky tip-in to get it to overtime, and then Erving hits a lucky shot to get it to the second overtime. We’re a good-conditioned team, and I think that showed at the end.”
Parsons buried a huge 3 from the corner and sent the Georgia fans scrambling for the exits when he flew in for a putback that made it 96-88 with 1:40 remaining. He also had a team-leading 12 rebounds.
Georgia had more turnovers (3) than baskets (2) in the second overtime. Florida went 5 of 7 from the field, 8 of 10 at the foul line and didn’t turn it over once.
“It was a devastating loss,” said Travis Leslie, who led Georgia with 21 points and had a couple of thunderous dunks that fired up the sellout crowd. “We just have to keep our heads up and keep fighting for it.”
Walker made the biggest shot for the Gators. Dribbling to his left, he pulled up and launched a shot back to his right from so far back that no one in the building thought it had a chance.
Nothing but net.
“I thought I heard (Georgia coach Mark Fox) say something (about fouling), so I just tried to make the 3 before they could foul me,” Walker said.
Fox said he never wanted his team to foul.
“We have always trusted our defense,” he said. “I didn’t think we were going to do anything else.”
Walker and Kenny Boynton had 24 points apiece for Florida, while Vernon Macklin added 23 and did yeoman work underneath, grabbing six offensive rebounds, most of them leading to easy follows.
Thompkins had 20 points and 13 rebounds. Jeremy Price added 16 points, double his season average.
“There’s worse things in life that are going to happen to them,” Fox said. “They have no choice but to get back up, and I’ll make sure they do that.”
Playing off the Georgia fan who does a Rocky-themed climb to the top of the stands at every game, the teams traded punches like heavyweight fighters in the first overtime. The lead changed hands a staggering eight times, the teams never more than two points apart until Price hit two free throws with 6.7 seconds left, giving Georgia an 85-82 lead.
Walker erased it with one amazing shot, and Georgia didn’t have time for a final counter-punch.
“I’m surprised he made the shot,” Leslie said.
Florida appeared to be in control when Walker drove for a layup that put the Gators up 72-64 with 3:08 left in regulation. Turns out, there was a long way to go.
Gerald Robinson had a tough night for Georgia with seven points and six turnovers, but he made a huge 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs wound up with the ball for one last possession, trailing 73-71, but it looked as though they might not get off a final shot when the burly Price wound up with the ball at the top of the key and needed help. Dustin Ware finally came to get it, hurried toward the basket and threw up a wild left-handed shot that wasn’t close.
But it ricocheted off the backboard right to Thompkins on the other side — as good as a pass. He laid it in ahead of buzzer, the ball clearly out of his hand before the red light went off.
Florida climbed back into The Associated Press rankings this week with wins over Auburn and Arkansas, but it’s been an inconsistent season for the Gators. They followed big wins over Florida State, Kansas State and Tennessee with surprising losses to Central Florida, Jacksonville and South Carolina.
Maybe they’re learning how to handle success, winning for the eighth time in nine games.
Georgia spent one week in the Top 25 — it first appearance since 2003 — after opening SEC play with an upset win over Kentucky. But the Bulldogs’ second home loss in a week will likely keep them from getting back in, at least for now.