By Dory LeBlanc
It wasn't pretty and at times it wasn't easy in the first half, but the No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators did enough in their second half showing to defeat the Albany Great Danes 67-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon.
The 16-seed Great Danes jumped out to an early 9-5 lead at the first media timeout, but Florida came back and Albany kept it tight for the first 15 minutes of the half. In the final 5:00, the Gators went on a 6-0 run to head into halftime with a 34-28 lead.
Offensively, the Gators ended the contest 51% from the field, while Albany dropped from 46% in the first to 39.2% by the end of the game.
The game was never a blowout by UF as many had predicted, but it wasn't that Florida was playing badly, although their effort seemed lackadaisical and sloppy at times, it was that the Great Danes were giving the No. 1 team in the country everything they could handle.
Patric Young was forced to leave the game early in the second after catching his third personal foul, but returned to end up with his first double-double effort of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
One of four seniors on the starting rotation, Casey Prather finished with 16 points after shooting 6-11 FG and 4-5 from the charity stripe, while his point total was matched by Dorian Finney-Smith.
Prather statistically was also the best defensive player for Florida, grabbing two steals and blocking three shots. Freshman Kasey Hill also notched tallies in both categories with two steals and one block.
However, Albany's D.J. Evans was the best player on the court at the Amway Center with 21 points and seven boards.
After the game, two-time SEC Coach of the Year Billy Donovan told TBS "I am a little baffled with our team right now," more than likely referring to the inability to put the game away.
With the victory. the Gators will move forward in the tournament, playing Pittsburgh in the next round on Saturday, March 22nd. Florida will be making a push for their fourth-straight Sweet 16 bid and tip off will be determined after the late game tonight.
Keep it locked to 620 WDAE / 95.3 FM for the start time, as we will bring you all of the action Saturday from Orlando.