Billy Donovan had a flashback moment Saturday.
When Wake Forest clawed back from an 11-point deficit in the second half, trimming the Gators’ margin to one point, Donovan thought back to November — and three games, in particular.
Donovan’s Gators squandered big leads to Miami and Kansas before losing, and they failed to protect a late lead in an overtime loss to Georgetown.
Was a sequel about to play out at the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic at the BB&T Center?
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Much to Donovan’s relief, not this time.
Florida not only held on but pulled away for a 63-50 victory over the Demon Deacons.
“This was Miami,” Donovan said. “This was Georgetown. This was Kansas, where our team, when it got up by , we’re looking around, and before you know it we crumble.”
On Saturday, the Gators didn’t wilt.
With UF clinging to a 52-49 lead with five minutes to go, Dorian Finney-Smith followed a tip-in with a three-pointer, and the Gators cruised to victory in a win that was no thing of beauty.
“I saw some internal fight in them,” Donovan said. “That was encouraging to me.”
As Donovan correctly noted, “it was a very, very sloppy game.”
Wake Forest committed 24 turnovers, and both teams shot poorly.
It was bloody, too.
When Michael Frazier II collided with Wake’s Aaron Rountree III midway through the first half, — a true battle of II vs. III — blood came gushing out of a cut above Frazier’s right eye.
“When I went out there on the court, I was really kind of taken back, just how deep and wide and opened up he was,” Donovan said of Frazier, the Gators’ leading scorer. “It was a deep cut.”
Said Frazier: “When I went down on the ground, I noticed I was kind of gushing. But it really didn’t freak me out at all.”
Frazier was taken to the locker room, where he received 14 stitches and passed a concussion test. He returned in the second half with a large bandage over the cut and continued to play aggressively.
But the Gators, despite all the turnovers by Wake, didn’t take advantage of the miscues and were slow to get going.
“We forced 16 turnovers in the first half and 24 for the game, and if you look at the fast-break points, we didn’t have a lot to show for that,” Donovan said. “For us forcing 24 turnovers and [scoring only] four fast-break points, it’s not very good.”
But Donovan also had reason to be pleased with what he saw.
There was the grit that wasn’t there before. And there was also the play of Alex Murphy, who made his Florida debut after transferring from Duke last year.
Murphy came off the bench but ended up playing 27 minutes and scoring nine points to go with four rebounds.
“It was a little bit of a sloppy game, but it felt good to get my feet wet,” Murphy said.
At the very least, Murphy gives Donovan a versatile, new weapon, one he can deploy at several positions.
“A lot of guys can play multiple positions in terms of skill,” Donovan said. “But they can’t play multiple positions mentally.”
Murphy can, Donovan said, because he he has a “high basketball IQ.”
“He gives me the flexibility that I can take him and dump him into some different positions, and I don’t have to say, ‘Do you know this play? Do you know what you’re doing here?’ And I think that’s what really makes him a unique player.”
With Murphy providing reinforcement and the Gators finally becoming healthy as a unit, UF might finally live up to its early promise, when it held a No.7 national preseason ranking.
“A lot of times it’s not about looking or playing pretty,” Donovan said. “It comes down to who’s the most competitive. And it comes down to an offensive rebound. It comes down to a free throw. It comes down to a loose basketball. It comes down to an extra pass. It comes down to those things. And I think we had fallen short in some of those areas in November.
“I think this is something we can build on.”