Dorian Finney-Smith has accomplished quite a lot during his time at Florida. He’s joined the elite club of Gators who have scored 1,000 points. He’s reached a Final Four. He’s been named Sixth Man of the Year. And now he’s taken part in Florida’s favorite postseason ritual: beating Ohio State.
Make no mistake, beating the Buckeyes on their home floor doesn’t erase the damage done by a four game losing streak near the end of the regular season. It doesn’t suddenly make the season a successful one, and it doesn’t change the fact that Mike White, try as he might, simply is not equipped with a great or even good team. Turning Ohio State into postseason Gator Bait once again doesn’t magically spawn the second coming of Patric Young, or turn Kasey Hill into Scottie Wilbekin.
But as this overall young Gators squad ground out a 74-66 victory, none of that mattered. Regardless of all the problems this team has, they nevertheless join some of the greatest teams in school history in the category of owning Ohio State. And while it’s admittedly nothing more than a consolation prize, it’s something to be proud of.
Florida is now 4-0 against Ohio State in postseason football and basketball match ups in the last ten years, and despite owning the Buckeyes, the Gators aren’t fond of Ohio State. The “rivalry” started in December of 2006, when the BCS Selection Show announced that Florida would play Ohio State in the national championship; for the next month, Buckeye fans ran their mouths nonstop about how their superior speed and power would overrun Florida. Unfortunately for them, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow led the Gators to a 41-14 curb stomping of the heavily favored Buckeyes in Arizona. A mere three months later, Joakim Noah and Al Horford dumped a truckload of salt into those fresh wounds, guiding perhaps the greatest Florida basketball team of all time to an 84-75 victory over Ohio State in the national championship game. And to add insult to injury, Will Muschamp’s Gators capped a downright horrible 2011 football season by beating Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl.
Yesterday’s win might have been the fatal blow in any Florida-Ohio State argument.
The Buckeyes, for their part, never really seemed interested in playing this second round NIT game. Florida exploded out of the gates to grab a 14-2 lead, and held onto it the entire way. The only time the apathetic Buckeyes even got close was on a 9-0 run to end the first half- something that’s become a pattern for this team. That cut the Gator lead down to 31-30 at the break.
But this time, the Gators responded immediately upon the game’s resumption. Kevarrius Hayes, playing down low in place of injured center John Egbunu, quickly got free for a layup and a dunk on back to back possessions. In fact, Ohio State never did find an answer for Hayes, who finished with 14 points- thanks in part to five uncontested layups and dunks.
In the meantime, the Gator lead slowly ballooned back up to double figures. Kasey Hill, for all the flak he takes, played a hell of a game, passing it off at the right times and finishing those slashing driving layups Florida fans have come to close their eyes on. The Buckeyes couldn’t figure out how to stop him either, and as they frantically tried to, Finney-Smith made sure to leave his mark on the intermittent rivalry by dropping 16 points, including two threes. The margin eventually reached 56-40, at which point Ohio State finally woke up and started hitting shots. But the game was never really in danger, and when Finney-Smith nailed his second three to make it 68-58, the game was over.
I think we all realize by now that nothing Florida can do at this point can save the season from being what March proved it to be: a rebuilding year at best, and a failure at worst. But we as Gator fans have to admit: having one more line in an argument with a Buckeye fan isn’t a bad consolation prize. And more importantly, for a young team with shaken confidence, the win could help build momentum heading into next year.