Amid the long list of heartbreaking close losses and so-close moments for the Gators’ basketball team over the last five years (the Final Four year excluded), we finally have a win in one of these nail-biters to talk about. And a big one at that.
Florida’s 72-70 win over Oklahoma State in the Orange Bowl Classic was more than just the Gators’ seventh win of the year. It was more than just a solid out of conference, tournament resume boosting win. And it was more than just a nice way to go into the Christmas break. By holding off a furious late comeback from the Cowboys, Florida proved they can indeed win the close game, and they can indeed come through late in the clutch.
The Gators appeared to have the game locked up when John Egbunu threw down a dunk to make it 64-54 with 6:37 to play. After all, it had been a back and forth game most of the way, but Florida had recently pulled ahead and slowly built their lead, and that dunk felt like the dagger the way Oklahoma State had been struggling offensively (41% from the floor) throughout the night. But like the Gators have done so many times in recent memory, they went cold and allowed the Pokes a chance to get back in it. Which they did, launching a 10-2 run to cut the lead down to two with under three minutes to go.
But unlike in those previous collapses, this time the Gators hit the big shot in crunch time.
Dorian Finney-Smith knocked down a three to put Florida back up by five, and that was all the Gators needed; from then on, it was simply continuing to lock down defensively and frustrate the Pokes’ offense the way they’d done most of the night, and the Gators had their victory. It mattered not the least that Jawun Evans scored 17 points for the Cowboys, as three of them came with less than a second left on the clock with his team down five. And so while it may have actually been an off night defensively by Florida’s standards, they did enough to take Oklahoma State out of its rhythm and hold them to 70 points, which is three below their season average.
Also of note: John Egbunu had a solid bounce back game after a horrid night against Michigan State in East Lansing. He chipped in ten points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked three shots, the last of which resembled a volleyball spike on Chris Olivier’s layup attempt with twenty seconds to go. Finney-Smith grabbed the rebound, Leyton Hammonds fouled him, and, well, that was that.
So congratulations, Mike White. You got your first win over a BCS conference school as the head coach at Florida. And you proved that your team, when pushed to the very end, can indeed win the close game. Now let’s keep it rolling.