Florida 77, Memphis 75: Gators get win via final stop

Elsa

It took all 40 minutes, but Florida outlasted Memphis in a primetime showdown that lived up to its billing.

For the second straight Tuesday, Florida played in college basketball's showcase game. And for the second straight Tuesday, Florida prevailed — in this game, topping Memphis, 77-75 — despite a lead being winnowed at the end.

Florida stopped Tigers point guard Joe Jackson on a drive with seconds to go, holding off a hard-charging, hard-nosed Memphis team that only let the Gators' lead grow bigger than six points for one stretch of 73 seconds in the second half. The stop made up for missed free throws from both Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points, eight rebounds) and Scottie Wilbekin (11 points, three rebounds) that gave Memphis chances to stay in this game, and came at the end of an up-tempo game with precious few stops.

The Gators got a handful of those stops early, while building a 23-11 lead over the game's first 10 minutes, but Memphis would take the lead back before the end of the first half, and went to the break down 41-38. From there, the game was virtually even, something reflected in the box score: Florida made 28 of 55 shots — and Memphis made 27 of 54.

One big edge for Florida was its ability to claw for offensive rebounds. The Gators had 14 on their 27 misses — a tremendous 51.9 percent of offensive rebounds. Patric Young (eight points, eight rebounds, six offensive rebounds) and Finney-Smith (five offensive rebounds) seemed to get whatever they wanted on offense, and boxed out well on defense, allowing Memphis to get just seven offensive rebounds on its 27 misses.

Another edge: The play of Casey Prather, who tallied 22 points and five rebounds, and made all six of his free throws. Prather remains Florida's leading scorer, and played superbly all night, slithering to the hoop off screens and generally presenting an insoluble problem for Memphis whenever he had the ball inside the arc.

Florida's win lifts the Gators to 3-1 over a daunting four-game stretch in which it played Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas, and the Tigers, with the only loss coming by a single point on a buzzer-beater at UConn. And considering the way those three wins have come — Florida's won by one, six, and two points — the old narrative about how the Gators couldn't get it done in close games feels a little outdated.

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