Florida fends off Memphis in Jimmy V Classic

Florida senior Casey Prather (left) led the Gators with 22 points in No. 16 UF's 77-75 win over No. 15 Memphis at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (AP Photo)

Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 11:53 p.m.

NEW YORK — With some clutch points from senior forward Casey Prather and a defensive stand in the closing seconds, Florida showed once again this season it can finish off a close game.

Surely, UF's 77-75 win over No. 15 Memphis before a vocal Gator contingent at Madison Square Garden had its nail-biting moments. The 16th-ranked Gators were up 77-75 when Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin clanged the front-end of a one-and-one off the back iron with 19.1 seconds left.

With 10.8 seconds left, Memphis coach Josh Pastner called timeout. Out of the timeout, Florida coach Billy Donovan switched from zone to man-to-man (“I didn't want a 3-pointer to beat us,” Donovan said after the game). Memphis senior point guard Joe Jackson initially beat Wilbekin off the dribble, but Florida sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith provided help. Jackson's driving layup attempt clanged off the iron and Finney-Smith punched the loose ball back to midcourt. Memphis senior guard Michael Dixon's desperation half-court heave fell short of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

“We didn't play great tonight,” Donovan said. “We found a way to win and that's always a positive. I thought we turned the ball over too much. I thought we got stagnant.”

Florida (8-2) survived a season-high 17 turnovers to pick up its second straight win over a ranked opponent. A big reason was Prather, who scored eight of his team-high 22 points in the final 3:14.

“I was just trying to be smart on offense, get aggressive as I can and the ball just happened to find the bottom of the basket,” Prather said. “It could have been any other one of our teammates.”

Finney-Smith had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Gators. Wilbekin added 11 points and three assists and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II had 11 points and two steals. Senior center Patric Young had eight points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 19 seconds left.

Jackson led Memphis (7-2) with 17 points.

Tied at 58 in the second half, the Gators went on a 6-0 run that featured a Wilbekin runner in the lane, a Kasey Hill driving layup in transition and mid-range jumper by Prather that put Florida up 64-58 with 8:31 remaining.

Hill later made his first 3-pointer of the season to extend UF's lead to 69-61. But it was an up-and-down game for the freshman point guard, who had five points, three assists and three turnovers.

“I thought it was a real eye-opener for Kasey, going against Memphis' senior guards,” Donovan said. “I think it shows him how far he needs to go at this level.”

Florida led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but defensive breakdowns proved costly during an 8-0 Memphis run that cut Florida's lead to 23-19. Dixon and Memphis guard Chris Crawford made back-to-back unchallenged 3-pointers during the run.

The Gators maintained their slim lead until Wilbekin picked up his second foul with 4:02 remaining in the first half. Hill replaced Wilbekin at the point, and Memphis took advantage of the freshman's shaky play late in the first half. Back-to-back turnovers by Finney-Smith and DeVon Walker sparked a 6-0 Memphis run, and the Tigers took a 36-35 lead on a transition layup by center Shaq Goodwin with 2:41 left in the first half.

But Florida regrouped to close the half strong. Walker was fouled beyond the 3-point line and made 2 of 3 free throws to put Florida back up 37-36. Young followed with a big steal that set up a transition layup by Will Yeguete to put UF up 39-36.

A putback by Memphis forward David Pellom cut Florida's lead to 39-38 with 37.1 seconds left. But Finney-Smith drew a blocking call on Pellom on a drive with 2.4 seconds left and made both free throws to put Florida up 41-38 at halftime.

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