Call it survival, an escape job, an ugly game that good teams find ways to win, or even just plain ugly.
All that matters is that the most recent chapter of the Florida-Georgia basketball rivalry went the way most of them do- with Florida on top.
Canyon Barry scored a team high 27 off the bench, Keith Stone added 17 and Florida held off a pesky Georgia team, 80-76, in overtime. It’s the Gators’ 21st win in the last 25 matchups over the Bulldogs, and their 14th straight win over the Dawgs in Gainesville- a streak that spans back to 2002. And that Georgia victory in the O’Dome was ultimately vacated, so technically it’s been since 2000 since Georgia last won in Gainesville.
But Florida nearly said goodbye to that impressive streak on Saturday.
Georgia opened the game on an 8-2 run, and controlled the game for pretty much the rest of the way. Florida seemed to grab some momentum at the end of the first half when Keith Stone drained a three to cut the Georgia lead to one, and then when Kasey Hill started the second half by hitting a layup to give Florida their first lead of the game, but that was followed by a 9-0 Georgia run that seemingly knocked the Gators down for the count.
Then Florida fought back with the unlikeliest of weapons- their bench.
Keyed by Stone and Barry, the Gators began to climb back into the game. Florida started to match most of Georgia’s buckets, and when the Dawgs suddenly went cold, Barry seized the opportunity. The Charleston transfer drained back to back threes in the span of 50 seconds- the second of which tied the game, and he was fouled on- and the ensuing underhanded free throw gave Florida the lead again at 53-52.
The teams then settled into a back and forth game that saw each team grab the lead by one or two point margins the rest of the way. And naturally- thanks to a missed free throw from the usually sure free throw shooter Kasey Hill- the game went into overtime.
But Florida had the advantage in the extra five minutes, because Georgia had a big problem: star forward Yante Maten had fouled out with four minutes to go in regulation. That forced the Dawgs to rely solely on their other playmaker, JJ Frazier. And while he hit a quick three to start the overtime, he went ice cold down the stretch, missing four of his final five shots from the floor. By contrast, Barry and Stone continued to pace Florida, and the Gators held a one point lead with less than a minute to go.
And despite overall off days, that was when the Gators’ best players came through. First, Kevaughn Allen increased the lead to three with a wild, twisting layup with :40 showing on the clock. Moments later, John Egbunu sealed the win with a clutch free throw to make it 80-76 with five seconds to go.
Not a bad way to end a game in which the opponent just came in and dominated from the start.
Florida can learn from this game, sure. Games like this are meant to be teaching moments for coaches, and lessons for teams to learn and be better because of come March. And Mike White sure has a lot of lessons to pick from in this game. But the important thing is that he’ll be teaching from a win.