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(Thursday, March 20th)
Final Score: Florida 67, Albany 55
Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith each scored 16 points and Florida withstood a challenge from heavy underdog Albany to earn a 67-55 victory in an NCAA Tournament South Region second-round clash.
The Gators' 27th consecutive win didn't come easy, as the 16th-seeded Great Danes tied the game at 39-39 with under 14 1/2 minutes left before Florida embarked on a 12-2 run that ultimately put the America East champions away, while enabling many a bracket filler to breathe a giant sigh of relief.
Florida (33-2), the No. 1 national seed, continues on to face ninth-seeded Pittsburgh in Saturday's third round after the Panthers blasted Colorado, 77-48, earlier in the day.
"These guys are 33-2 and haven't lost a game going all the way back to December 2nd. They've done a really, really good job focusing like they need to in front of each challenge that's been in front of them," said Gators head coach Billy Donovan. "This wasn't one of our better moments in terms of that. Now, it was good enough to win, but I think like those guys said, 'is it good enough to play against a team like Pittsburgh?' Probably not. But I'm proud of our guys because, one, they found a way to win when they didn't play their best."
Patric Young added 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win, with Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill also netting 10 points for the Gators.
Albany (19-15), which captured the America East Tournament as a No. 4 seed and reached Orlando via Tuesday's 71-64 triumph over Mount St. Mary's in the First Four, was paced by D.J. Evans' 21 points.
"We came here to win," said Great Danes head coach Will Brown. "I know a lot of people smile about that and think this coach is crazy, these kids are crazy. We believed we could win. We wanted to be the first 16 to beat a 1. That was our mentality."
The Gators ran No. 1 seeds' all-time record to 117-0 against No. 16's in the field of 64, though Albany made them work for it after Evans and Peter Hooley led a 10-3 run that squared the contest at 39-39 with 14:32 remaining.
Young, one of four senior starters on a Florida squad that's gotten to the Elite Eight three straight years, then delivered a vicious dunk while being fouled on the ensuing possession and promptly sank the subsequent free throw.
The play clearly energized the Gators, with Hill coming up with a pair of steals moments later that led to four more points and Finney-Smith dunking off a Will Yeguete feed to extend the margin to 48-39 with 11:32 left.
Albany's John Puk briefly reversed the momentum by burying a midrange jumper, but Michael Frazier answered with a transition 3-pointer midway through the second half that put Florida up by double digits at 51-41.
The Great Danes never got closer than eight points down the rest of the way, with Wilbekin essentially ending all hopes for a historic upset by burying a trey that staked the Gators to a 64-52 lead with 2:10 to go.
"I think we ran out of gas," Brown remarked. "And also, we're playing the No. 1 team in the country, and all that length, physicality and athleticism is another reason why we wore down besides [playing] three games in six days."
Albany also gave the nation's No. 1 ranked team all it could handle for most of the first half, largely due to a torrid shooting pace it eventually couldn't keep up.
The Great Danes knocked down 11 of their first 16 shot attempts, with the last of those makes an open 3-pointer by Evans that gave the America East champs a 26-24 edge with seven minutes left in the opening period.
"I was a little bit disappointed with our defense in the first half," Donovan admitted. "I didn't think we defended like we normally did. I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job in that area."
Florida's vaunted defense clamped down over the remainder of the half, though, causing Albany to miss nine of its final 10 field goal tries while closing out the frame on a 10-2 run.
The Great Danes didn't score at all over the last 4:46 of the half, with Wilbekin hitting a short jumper that broke a 28-28 tie during Albany's dry spell and later driving the lane and scoring to send Florida into the break owning a 34-28 advantage.
Albany trailed by seven during the initial stages of the second half, but quickly erased the deficit with its final strong run of the day. Hooley followed four straight points from Evans with a triple that pulled the Danes within 39-38 with 15:17 left to play, then drew contact while driving to the hoop on Albany's next trip and hitting 1-of-2 free throws to knot the score.
Florida shot 51 percent overall from the field and outscored Albany by a 26-2 margin in bench points ... Evans was coming off a career high-tying 22-point effort in Tuesday's win over Mount St. Mary's ... Gary Johnson finished with 13 points for the Great Danes and Puk had 10 on 5-of-7 shooting ... Hooley, who went just 1-of-10 from the field, is one of four Australians on the Great Danes roster, along with brothers Sam and Mike Rowley and forward Luke Devlin ... The schools had met just once previously, an 83-64 Florida win in Gainesville in November of 2005.
03/20 19:55:34 ET
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