Florida gets scare before pulling away from Albany in NCAA Tournament
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ORLANDO, Fla. - For 251/2 minutes of basketball, the never-before was still there, the impossible still possible, as 16th-seeded Albany was tied at 39 with top-seeded, top-ranked Florida.
Then, in a flurry, the Gators went up seven on a putback dunk by Patric Young as part of a three-point play, a steal and layup by Kasey Hill, and two more free throws by Hill. Albany never got any closer after that, and Florida pulled away to a 67-55 victory in the NCAA Tournament's second round -- but not before getting a scare from the resilient Great Danes at the Amway Center.
"A 16 is going to beat a one at some point, and we wanted to be that team," said Albany coach Will Brown, less than two days removed from the first NCAA Tournament win in his program's history. "I think we ran out of gas, and the best team in the country probably had something to do with it."
Playing less than two hours from their campus, the Gators (33-2) won their 27th straight. They'll have their hands full Saturday against ninth-seeded Pittsburgh, which routed Colorado by 29 points.
Leading the charge for the Great Danes (19-15) was 5-9 senior D.J. Evans, who had a game-high 21 points and a team-best seven rebounds despite taking a knee to the head. He quickly returned to the game, persistent like his team.
"We just had the mentality that it doesn't matter what it is on the front of the jersey," Evans said of facing the top seed without fear. "The name doesn't mean anything. You just have to go out there, just play the game. That's what we did."
Australians Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley totaled 2-for-18 shooting and only nine points for the Great Danes, and the Gators' bench outscored Albany's 26-2. Brown tried several defenses intended to limit Florida guards Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin, who totaled 13 points.
"I knew they were going to junk the game up," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "They had played some box-and-one, some triangle-and-two. We had prepared for all that stuff. Offensively, we were fine . . . Where it showed up for us, we've been a great defensive team. Today we were not a great defensive team."
Albany had won two games in the previous five days, beating Stony Brook on the road behind 33 points from Rowley and Hooley to earn the America East title, then beating Mount St. Mary's on Tuesday night in the "First Four" for the program's first NCAA win. Falling short of another win -- something no 16 seed has ever done -- couldn't keep Brown from smiling even after a season-ending loss.
"I'm as proud as any coach in the country right now," he said, "because this was a resilient group that developed tremendous toughness the last month and really came together as a group . . . I'm happy for them."