Saint Joseph's guard DeAndre Bembry made a two with 4:16 to go in the second half against Florida on Saturday, in the second semifinal of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Clasic, and it put the Hawks up 61-60. At that moment, Florida fans could well have seen all the signs of a classic collapse, one last year's squad mastered.
These Gators did almost the opposite.
From that point, the Gators put on a 14-2 run spearheaded by Dorian Finney-Smith and some sound defense, and won this game, 74-63, to secure passage to a "championship" game against Purdue on Sunday.
Finney-Smith had seven of his 13 points in that stretch, including a dagger three and two crucial free throws, and also threw a beautiful assist to John Egbunu. Egbunu had that dunk on the Doe-Doe assist and a brilliant twisting layup of his own, volleyball-swatted a block, and started a break with some great hustle on a defensive rebound. And Devin Robinson finished that break with a dunk that gave him the last of his 12 points in the game, and made his second double-double in three Florida games this year (he also had 10 rebounds) even better.
But it was Florida's defense that really impressed during that final stretch, limiting the Hawks to a single field goal in the final 4:16, and allowing just one offensive rebound in six chances. For the game, the Gators gave up just eight offensive boards, and grabbed 28 defensive ones, limiting the Hawks to one try quite often. (Florida also cleaned the Hawks' clocks on their glass, snagging 18 offensive rebounds of their own.)
And after struggling with foul trouble early — Egbunu sat for much of the first half after two quick fouls, and Kasey Hill (13 points) eventually fouled out — the Gators rallied to a 34-33 lead at halftime and only briefly coughed up their advantage in the second period.
While Purdue is the best team these Gators will have seen this year, this team has also won three games in very different ways to this point. And that versatility is part of why there's plenty of reason for cautious optimism about Mike White's first season.