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Colleges

Gators do just enough to advance against Albany

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2014 at 11:03 PM

ORLANDO — The University of Florida Gators nearly made some NCAA tournament history Thursday, but it was hardly a memorable performance.

After a record-breaking season — including an unprecedented 18-0 mark in SEC play and the tournament’s overall No. 1 seeded — the Gators struggled mightily before putting away the No. 16 Albany Great Danes 67-55 in a second-round game at the Amway Center.

“Maybe we took some things for granted,’’ Gators senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “We just didn’t play like we need to in the NCAA tournament. I think we all know that.

“We didn’t panic, but we survived and got the win, for whatever it’s worth.’’

For the Gators (33-2), winners of 27 straight games, it’s worth a Saturday meeting against the No. 9-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers (26-9), who spanked Colorado 77-48 earlier Thursday.

After the shaky effort, Gators coach Billy Donovan preached perspective.

“I’m dealing with human beings,’’ Donovan said. “These guys … haven’t lost a game all the way back to Dec. 2. They’ve done a really, really good job focusing like they need to with each challenge in front of them.

“This wasn’t one of our better moments in terms of that. Now it was good enough to win. But is it good enough to (win) against a team like Pittsburgh? Probably not. But I’m proud of our guys because they found a way to win when they didn’t play their best. They’ve always been really good at being able to learn valuable lessons.’’

Albany (19-15), the America East Conference champion, which defeated Mount St. Mary’s in Tuesday night’s First Four game at Dayton, Ohio, didn’t even practice in Orlando. Great Danes coach Will Brown wanted to preserve his team’s stamina. Still, Albany twice led by four points early in the first half and forced a 39-39 tie with 14:32 remaining.

From there, a resounding dunk by UF senior Patric Young ignited an 8-0 run by the Gators, who mostly held a double-digit margin in the final 10 minutes. UF limited Albany to 32 percent shooting in the second half.

The Gators had five players in double figures — with reserve Dorian Finney-Smith and Casey Prather leading the way, each with 16 points.

Since the 64-team NCAA bracket was instituted in 1985, No. 1-seeded teams are now 117-0 against No. 16-seeded teams.

“Everybody in this tournament wants to move on and advance,’’ Donovan said. “Everybody has earned the right to be in the tournament. You knew they were going to battle and fight.

“We were not the same defensive team we’ve been in the past. We really weren’t. Could that be expectations? Could it be emotionally drained, long year? Could it be, hey, Albany is in a play-in game?’’

Maybe it was all of that.

And maybe Albany felt a bit disrespected by outsiders.

“I had an alum email an article from a newspaper that said, ‘Gators Open With Laugher,’ ’’ said Brown, who completed his 12th season as Albany’s head coach. “I think our guys take stuff like that personally.

“We came here to win. … A 16-seed is going to beat a 1-seed at some point and we wanted to be that team.’’

But Brown said he knew the task Albany faced.

“I think we ran out of gas and the best team in the country probably had something to do with it,’’ Brown said.

“They’re the No. 1 overall seed. They’re arguably the best team in the country. They’ve got a Hall of Fame coach, tremendous length, athleticism, McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench. If there is a better team in the country, let me know. When you go undefeated in the SEC, that’s impressive. So I’m not sure how you can question them.’’

Brown seemed to favor UF against Pittsburgh, but not by much.

“Whoever can score the ball easiest in that game is going to win,’’ Brown said. “I think Florida’s pressure allows them to get some cheap turnovers, which will translate into some easy baskets.

“I think Pitt is really good. This is going to be a great game and I think a lot closer than many people think.’’

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

ALBANY (19-15) — Evans 6-12 7-8 21, Hooley 1-10 3-4 6, S. Rowley 1-8 1-2 3, Johnson 6-10 0-0 13, Puk 5-7 0-0 10, Haas 0-1 0-0 0, M. Rowley 0-0 0-0 0, Devlin 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Egharevba 0-0 0-0 0, Wiegmann 0-0 0-0 0, Ennema 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 11-14 55.

FLORIDA (33-2) — Young 4-7 2-3 10, Wilbekin 4-9 1-2 10, Yeguete 1-2 0-0 2, Frazier II 1-5 0-0 3, Prather 6-11 4-5 16, Hill 3-4 4-4 10, Finney-Smith 6-10 3-4 16, C. Walker 0-0 0-0 0, D. Walker 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-49 14-18 67.

Halftime—Florida 34-28. 3-Point Goals—Albany 4-13 (Evans 2-5, Johnson 1-1, Hooley 1-5, Haas 0-1, Ennema 0-1), Florida 3-12 (Finney-Smith 1-3, Frazier II 1-4, Wilbekin 1-4, D. Walker 0-1). Fouled Out—Puk. Rebounds—Albany 27 (Evans 7), Florida 30 (Young 10). Assists—Albany 10 (S. Rowley 4), Florida 11 (Wilbekin 4). Total Fouls—Albany 15, Florida 14. A—16,074.

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