ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Gators did not allow history to be made in their first game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but there were a few moments in the second half when the Albany Great Danes had people wondering whether a No. 16 seed could beat a No. 1.
The answer was no. Florida’s depth and strength inside were too much for Albany and the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed slipped out of Amway Arena with a 67-55 win on Thursday in a second-round South Regional game.
And a large sigh of relief. The score was tied 39-39 with just over 14 minutes left before Florida started playing like the top seed and Albany looked like a team that had to play its way into the field of 64.
“The most important thing is to survive and advance,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And we advanced.”
“It’s a blessing we get an opportunity to play another 40 minutes,” said Gators center Patric Young, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t play our style of game. This isn’t going to be good enough to keep our season going.”
Albany coach Will Brown was almost elated in defeat.
“A 16 is going to beat a one at some point and we wanted to be that team,” he said. “If we didn’t come here to win, we should have got on the plane in Dayton and gone right back to Albany. I thought we had a chance, but we just ran out of gas and the best team in the country had something to do with that.”
The Gators did it with defense in the final 10 minutes. Florida held Albany to 32 percent shooting from the field and forced seven turnovers in the second half, after allowing Albany to shoot 46.2 percent and commit just three turnovers in the first half.
“I’ve always said our margin of error is not great,” Donovan said. “We have been a very good defensive team, but we were not good today, but we overcame it.”
Much of that was because of the pace of the game, which Albany dragged almost into reverse. The Great Danes would not shoot with more than 10 seconds on the clock and played so many varieties of zone defense that Florida had to milk the clock at the offensive end until it recognized what it was facing.
“We were trying to push our tempo and play fast, but we didn’t score enough and we let them score too much, so it kept them in the game,” said Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, who extinguished the last bit of fire in Albany with a 3-pointer that gave Florida a 12-point lead with two minutes left in the game.
Florida forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Casey Prather scored 16 points each. Wilbekin added 10 points for the Gators, who needed a 3-pointer from Wilbekin and 3-of-4 shooting from the free-throw line in the final two minutes to keep Albany from making things really uncomfortable. Kasey Hill came off the Florida 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.
“I wouldn’t say we had to play a perfect game, we just felt like we had to play really well for 40 minutes,” Evans said. “We just had the mentality that it doesn’t matter who we play. What is says on the front of the jersey, the name doesn’t mean anything. You just got to go out there and play the game and that’s what we did.”
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 did not leave a seam
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