The Florida Gators‘ season was not saved on Tuesday night, but Florida (11-9, 4-3 SEC) did avoid blowing yet another double-digit lead as it inched its way past the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-7, 3-4 SEC) in the final seconds of the contest to pull out a 52-50 win at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The Gators, losers of three-straight games, avoided dropping four contests in a row for the first time since 2003-04 as head coach Billy Donovan improved to 10-0 all-time against the Crimson Tide.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Tuesday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:
It was over when: Alabama erased a five-point Florida lead as Ricky Tarrant drained a three (giving him 12 points in the half) with two minutes to play. Still tied with less than 30 seconds left, Gators redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith received a pass beyond the arc, pump faked and drove the lane to finish with a hammer dunk, putting UF up 52-50 with 22 seconds to play. It wound up being the game-winning basket for the Gators, as Finney-Smith delivered a block at the other end to negate a shot attempt and conclude the contest. “It was a little anger, I struggled tonight, but my teammates did a good job staying together when adversity came,” Finney-Smith told ESPN after the game. Added Donovan: “I thought he had a pretty decent look to take a three, it was probably a smart decision to drive it, obviously with the way it finished up. … It was good to see him go to the rim strong like that.”
Significant stretch: Seven turnovers and 3-of-12 shooting by Florida allowed Alabama to methodically piece together an extended 19-6 scoring stretch through the opening 12:10 of the second half, tying the game at 41 on seven-straight points by Tarrant. “I’m happy we won but our issues are still unresolved, in my opinion,” Donovan explained. “The start of the second half, you’re up by 13 and I got to take five guys off the floor, and we score seven points in 12 minutes of play and we score 17 points in the second half. I’m happy we won the game, don’t get me wrong, but I was not happy at all with the way we played in the second half. .. From my vantage point with our team, it’s the same thing; this game was no different than Ole Miss.”
Prominent players: The first 39:38 of Tuesday night’s game belonged to anyone but him, but Finney-Smith’s heroic effort in the game’s final 22 seconds sealed the deal for the Gators. He finished just 1-for-6 with two points, five rebounds and two assists, but he did record three blocks in the contest. His dunk with 22 seconds remaining was his first in 61:31 of game clock dating back to the first half against Ole Miss on Saturday. Prior to that, sophomore center Chris Walker had a coming out party of sorts for UF with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four rebounds and two blocks. “It was good to see Chris play the way he did,” Donovan said. “He played with energy. He did some good things. But calling it like it is, [Walker blew a pick-and-roll coverage late in the game]. He did some really good things. He made progress. Our team is making progress, and he’s made progress, and I’m encouraged by that. But my job with him is to still get him to keep striving and not thinking he has it all figured out because he doesn’t. But he gave us a huge lift today.”
First half focus: A sluggish start by both teams kept things close early, but an 11-2 run by the Gators – aided by four layups and five Tide turnovers – pushed Florida ahead 21-10 with 6:14 left until the break. With Alabama committing 12 turnovers and shooting just 36.4 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes, UF took advantage by making four-straight field goals and taking a 35-22 lead into the break.
Perfect plays: Going up for a contested layup, redshirt junior F Alex Murphy had his shot blocked, but he gathered himself, picked up the ball and spun around for a layup. Murphy went 3-for-5 in the game with eight points. Inside the final four minutes of the contest, freshman point guard Chris Chiozza looked to be running out of options on a play when he deftly found Walker with a lob at the hoop.
Standout stats: Turnovers once again (nearly) doomed Florida as the Gators committed nine in the second half, giving the Crimson Tide numerous additional opportunities to put the ball in the basket (see above), which they did by dominating the visitors 28-17 in the second half.
What it means: UF found a way to pull out a close game but very little could legitimately be gained by Florida’s performance. The Gators once again blew a double-digit lead and almost allowed the Tide, which shot 39.1 percent from the field, to pick up a victory in a game the hosts had no business winning.
Next up: Florida will face one of its toughest tests during its Southeastern Conference slate on Saturday when it hosts Arkansas.
Everything else: Florida and Alabama started a combined 5-for-21 from the field with nine turnovers in the first 8:47 of the contest … the Tide committed 11 turnovers in the first 12 minutes … junior guard Michael Frazier II had a rough game, going 0-for-4 from the field with five turnovers in 32 minutes; he did go 5-for-5 form the charity stripe with three boards and three assists … Frazier ended his streak of 41-straight games with a made three … Chiozza and sophomore PG Kasey Hill combined for eight points, six assists and four turnovers … redshirt junior G Eli Carter was actually the Gators’ leading scorer with 13 points, though he posted that number on 4-of-10 shooting with two turnovers … UF shot 50 percent in the first half and 35 percent in the second half … Florida outscored Alabama 26-10 in the paint … UF held a lead for 36 minutes in Tuesday’s game
“He made a couple plays and he knocked down that big three. He was engaged in the game and he was defending, and really there was no reason to take him out,” said Donovan of leaving Chiozza in at the end of the game. “He made a couple really nice passes. … He was playing well, so we just went with him and kept him on the floor.”