NEW YORK - You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher five game stretch of non-conference opponents than Wisconsin, UConn, FSU Kansas and Memphis but that's exactly who Bill Donovan scheduled in the last three weeks for the Florida Gators. Against those opponents, Florida went 3-2, losing a buzzer beater to the Huskies and not playing very well against Wisconsin.
Against FSU, Kansas and Memphis, three different types of teams, Donovan changed his lineups, played different defenses and challenged his players to step it up a notch coming back from suspension and injury.
The Memphis Tigers provided a very tough match up for Florida at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V classic, using a veteran lineup, with four backcourt seniors capable of lighting it up.
Using smothering defense and a good transition game, the Gators hung on to win 77-75. Casey Prather scored 22 points, including the last eight of the game for Florida. Prather hit two free throws with 27 seconds left giving the Gators a 4-point lead but Memphis matched Florida at the FT line to pull within two. That's when the Gators Achilles Heel, inconsistency at the line, almost bit them hard. Scotty Wilbekin, coming off the best game of his college career, missed the front of a 1 and 1 to give the Tigers a chance to win or tie.
But that's when defense made the difference.
Even without Pat Young, who had fouled out, the Gators were able to play tough for the last 10 seconds partially blocking Memphis' Joe Jackson's shot and tipping it back to half court for the win.
Dorian Finney-Smith added 14 points for Florida with Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II adding 11.
The Gators play Fresno State Saturday in Sunrise at the Orange Bowl Classic. They're home after Christmas on the 29th against Savannah State. The SEC Schedule starts at home against South Carolina on January 8th.
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