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Florida 67, Albany 55

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Casey Prather scored 16 points apiece as top-seeded Florida avoided an upset with a strong finish, defeating 16th-seeded Albany 67-55 Thursday in an NCAA Tournament second-round game at the Amway Center.

Guard Scottie Wilbekin added 10 points for Florida, which needed a 3-pointer from Wilbekin and 3-of-4 shooting from the free-throw line in the final two minutes to stop Albany (19-15) from making things really uncomfortable. Center Patric Young contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Gators (33-2), and freshman Kasey Hill came off the bench to score 10 points, all in the second half.

Guard DJ Evans led Albany with 21 points and seven rebounds. Forward Gary Johnson added 13 points, and center John Puk contributed 10 points and five rebounds.

The score was tied at 39 with 14 minutes to play before Florida’s depth and strength settled the issue.

A sequence early in the second half was a perfect summary of Albany’s plan. Evans got the ball with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, dribbled in and out of the Gators defense, pumped-faked guard Michael Frazier off the floor and jumped into him to get fouled as the shot-clock buzzer sounded.

Evans made both free throws to cut the Gators’ lead to 37-35 with 16:28 to play in the game.

Subsequently at the other end, Albany’s matchup zone didn’t leave a seam uncovered inside and closed out so quickly on defense that Florida couldn’t get off a shot. The Gators were down to less than five seconds on the shot clock when Albany guard Peter Hooley bailed them out, committing a foul 22 feet from the basket.

True to form, Hooley hit a 3-pointer at the other end, followed it with two free throws and the Great Danes tied the game 39-39 with 14:32 to play.

The tie lasted only 27 seconds, but it was enough to silence an arena of mostly Florida fans and give Albany fans a reason to dream.

Young started the Gators on a 12-2 run with a three-point play off a pass from Hill, and then the freshman point guard turned two steals into four points. Finney-Smith made it nine straight with a dunk before Frazier hit a 3-pointer to make it 51-41 with 10:05 left in the game.

Albany got it under 10 three times, the last one when Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 3:21 to make it 62-51, but the Great Danes didn’t have enough to sustain a rally.

Evans outplayed Wilbekin early in the game, and the Great Danes hung right with the Gators, trailing only 34-28 at halftime.

Florida shot 56 percent for the half, but the Gators had to sit on their hands at the defensive end as Albany drained the shot clock on nearly every possession before looking for a scoring opportunity.

The Great Danes turned the ball over only three times in the half.

A jumper by Evans gave Albany a 9-5 lead five minutes into the game, the Great Danes’ largest lead of the half.

Florida quickly drew even, with Prather scoring from the perimeter and Young using his strength to muscle inside for easy shots.

Prather hit four jumpers on his way 10 first half points. Young hit all three of his field goal attempts and had six rebounds.

The Gators finally pulled away by limiting Albany to one basket in the final seven minutes of the half and outscoring the Great Danes, 10-2.

Wilbekin had four of his six first-half points during the run, and Young contributed a dunk and a layup.

NOTES: Florida started the tournament as a No. 1 seed for only the second time in school history. The other time was 2006, when the Gators won the championship. … Albany’s 71-64 victory on Tuesday over Mount St. Mary’s was its first tournament victory in four NCAA tournament appearances. … Florida defeated Albany 83-64 in 2005, the only other time the teams met.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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