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Albany brought back to reality by challenge of top seed Florida

DJ Evans of the Albany Great Danes celebrates

DJ Evans of the Albany Great Danes celebrates their 71-64 win over the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at at University of Dayton Arena on March 18, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio. Credit: Getty Images / Gregory Shamus

ORLANDO, Fla. - Albany coach Will Brown said he had about 15 minutes Tuesday night to savor the Great Danes' first NCAA Tournament victory before his 11-year-old son, Jackson, brought him back to reality.

"He said, 'Dad, we play Florida now?' I said 'Yes,' and he said, 'Are we going to get killed?' " joked Brown, whose team will face the No. 1 and top-seeded Gators around 4:35 p.m. at Amway Arena Thursday. "I smiled and said, 'We'll be OK, buddy. Don't worry about it. We'll watch some film and I'll let you know how we'll do.' "

As if facing the top seed with a 26-game winning streak weren't daunting enough, Albany did so from the First Four in Dayton, using only seven players in a 71-64 victory against Mount St. Mary's, then flying to Orlando late enough that players arrived at their team hotel at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

"They're the best team in the country," said Brown, a Long Island native from Miller Place who played at Division II Dowling College. "What's so impressive about Florida is they bring it every night."

Their roles are clear as tournament favorite and extreme underdog, but Gators coach Billy Donovan isn't about to treat the Great Danes as a walk in the park.

"They've earned the right to play the game," Donovan said. "They've had a heck of a year. They've gone into their conference tournament and had to win a championship on the road. I think that says a lot about their kids' character. It says a lot about the job Will has done."

Albany is a relative unknown as NCAA teams go, a foregone conclusion for fans filling out brackets. The Great Danes are a colorful lot -- their top two players, guard Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley, are two of four Australians on the roster, which has players from Denmark and the Republic of Georgia.

The Gators have the burden of knowing a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1, even if they're not acknowledging any added pressure of being the tournament's top overall seed. Asked about the specter of being a No. 1, guard Scottie Wilbekin was literally unaware.

"The specter? What does that mean?" he asked. "We try not to think about that. Coach D does a good job of reminding us that no matter what the rankings are, every year, there's upsets. Anything can happen, anybody can beat anybody, so we've got to be on our toes no matter what."

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