Oklahoma State burst from the gate to 9-2 and 18-10 leads on Florida in the 2015 edition of the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday night. But, as has become unnervingly common with inferior foes, the Gators reeled in their prey and chomped when necessary, not to full dismemberment, coming away with a 72-70 win that was a result of more thrashing and gnashing than splashing.
Florida got 16 points and nine rebounds from Dorian Finney-Smith to lead all Gators in both categories, and got double-digit contributions from fellow starters Devin Robinson (13 points, six rebounds) and Chris Chiozza (11 points). The Florida bench, newly fortified by the rotation of John Egbunu to Mike White's second unit and the recovery of Alex Murphy, helped considerably, with Kasey Hill providing seven points and eight assists against just one turnover, Egbunu posting 10 points and three blocks, and KeVaughn Allen chipping in 11 points of his own.
But this one was close throughout after Florida's 12-2 run to take back the lead in the first half, with the Gators only briefly leaking out to 10-point advantages late in the second half. And Florida's faulty free throwing is to blame: The Gators made a miserable 12 of 26 free throws, with Egbunu's 2-for-9 night and a 3-for-6 showing by Finney-Smith weighing them down.
That inability to capitalize on easy opportunities — and the standard iffy shooting from the field and distance (Florida made eight threes ... on 26 attempts) — helped turn what could've been a comfortable win into a close game.
Oklahoma State's good enough — especially if Jawun Evans can go for 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists against Big 12 foes — to make this win look better than it does now. Florida's good enough to beat better teams, too.
But the Gators continue to dance close to the razor's edge, and aren't nearly good enough to win games by big margins if they continue to fail at many of the marginal things that swell leads.
With just two games of non-conference play remaining, Florida's chances to refine its formula before setting foot in a more competitive SEC than the Gators have seen in recent years are dwindling.