Top-seeded Florida won its 27th consecutive game with a Gentleman’s C, but the Gators nearly failed their latest test if not for a dominant performance from their bench.
Boosted by a 26-2 scoring advantage by two reserves making their first NCAA Tournament appearances, Florida (33-2) survived to beat a pesky 16th-seeded Albany 67-55 on Thursday afternoon in Amway Center.
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill — questionable to play Thursday because of turf toe — scored 10 points, hitting double digits for the first time in more than four months (Nov. 16), and Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year Dorian Finney-Smith added a team-high 16 points.
“They played great, especially Kasey,” UF senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
“They did a great job attacking their zone, being aggressive on defense and making plays. … I don’t know what we would’ve done if they didn’t play like that.”
Florida’s transition offense was stifled by Albany’s ability to control the game’s tempo, but Hill — a blur in the open court — did score three fast-break layups.
“These are big games, you can’t sit these out,” said Hill, who was medically cleared pregame and said afterward that he wasn’t bothered by the injury.
Gators coach Billy Donovan said Hill was injured during practice this week when a teammate stepped on his foot.
“I don’t know how much pain he was in,” Donovan said. “He never really said anything to me about it.
“I didn’t know what I would get out of him but I thought we got some very, very good minutes from him.”
“I felt great, but it was a bad game [for the team],” Hill said.
“We didn’t come out to play.”
Finney-Smith kept the Gators afloat during a lackluster first half, scoring 10 points including six in a row during a 9-2 run. Later, the redshirt sophomore — who never made the Tournament with Virginia Tech — had back-to-back thunderous dunks to punctuate Florida’s 38-12 scoring advantage in the paint.
“It’s all about strength in numbers,” senior center Patric Young said.
“[As starters], we just give it our all, play hard and push yourself to fatigue because we’ve got not much of a drop-off at all coming off the bench. [Finney-Smith], Kasey Hill, those guys, always bring pretty good minutes, especially defensively. “So, it’s good to have a lot of trust in those guys on the bench.”
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