University of Florida

Florida Gators hold off pesky Albany, will face Pitt next

History was nipping at the University of Florida’s heels like a puppy dog.

Then with one thunderous dunk, Patric Young showed why Gators are on the high end of the food chain.

His “and-one” slam nearly seven minutes into the second half Thursday gave Florida a lead over the Albany Great Danes that it never relinquished.

The 67-55 final score in the Gators win appropriately indicated that they were the better team, but also that they had better get much better — and quickly — if they have designs on a third national championship in nine years.

In the moments following the South Regional second-round game at Amway Center, UF coach Billy Donavan told his team just that. His message: This isn’t going to be enough to keep our season going.

It got through. Said super sub Dorian Finney-Smith: “It was a tough game. We didn’t come out with a lot of energy. We just have to move on.”

Luckily for Florida, an overwhelming edge in talent was enough to win the day.

Five players — Finney-Smith (16 points), Young (10 points, 10 rebounds), Casey Prather (16), Kasey Hill (10) and Scottie Wilbekin (10) — scored in double figures for Florida, which outscored Albany 28-16 after Young’s emotional bucket.

“We have strength in numbers,” Young said.

That alone might not be enough Saturday, when the top-ranked, top-seeded Gators face Pittsburgh in the tournament’s third round. The ninth-seeded Panthers blitzed Colorado 77-48 in the early game.

The win was Florida’s 27th in a row, a school record. With the late, decisive push, the Gators survived infamy; no No. 1 seed has ever lost to a No. 16 seed in tournament history.

“A 16 is going to beat a one at some point,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “We wanted to be that team.”

Guard D.J. Evans scored a game-high 21 points for undermanned Albany, which played a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, less than 48 hours earlier.

The Great Danes, champions of the American East, kept within shouting distance for much of the afternoon thanks to a torrid start. Albany made 11 of its first 16 shots, but never led by more than four.

Once those shots stopped falling — Albany closed the half missing 9 of its last 10 — UF pushed ahead.

Finney-Smith and Prather each scored 10 points in the first half, which Florida closed on a 6-0 run to take a 34-28 lead.

If it seemed a bit like deja vu for Gators fans, there’s a reason: The last time UF was a No. 1 seed (2007), it led 16th-seeded Jackson State by just six at the halftime but went on to win 112-69.

There was no such romp this time.

With the victory, this year’s UF senior class — Prather, Young, Wilbekin and Will Yeguete — got the school record for most wins (117) over a four-year career.

Few were in the mood to celebrate Thursday, however. Frustration blended with relief was the vibe for UF.

That started at the top. Donovan said he takes the team’s apparent lack of early intensity “very, very seriously.”

He added: “This wasn’t one of our better moments, in terms of that. ... Our margin for error as a team is not great.”

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