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Gary Johnson and Albany pushed #1 Florida to the brink but fell in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Thursday.
Courtesy: America East Communications

Albany Pushes #1 Florida, Falls in NCAA MBB 2nd Round

Release: 03/21/2014
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Courtesy: UAlbany Athletic Communications

ORLANDO, Fla. – Playing with poise and complete control on the national stage, the University at Albany men’s basketball team gave the No. 1 team in the nation a noble run Thursday evening in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in Orlando’s Amway Center. After holding the lead until the 7:02 mark in the first half, the Great Danes ultimately fell to the Florida Gators by a score of 67-55.

Florida (33-2) will now advance to the Round of 32 against Pittsburgh, while UAlbany’s season comes to an end with a 19-15 overall record.

“I'm very proud of my team,” said Head Coach Will Brown, who led UAlbany to its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth since 2006. “This is our third game in six days against arguably the best team in the country -- A tremendous effort. This has turned into a very, very tough team, and I'm proud of them. “

Playing in the final game of their careers, seniors DJ Evans, Gary Johnson, and John Puk led UAlbany in the scoring column with double-digit efforts. Evans logged a game-high 21 points, going 6-for-12 from the field, 2-for-5 from three, and 7-for-8 from the free throw line, while also grabbing a team-best seven rebounds. Johnson contributed 13 points and three boards, while Puk capped his tenure with 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists.

Florida boasted a balanced attack with Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith each totaling 16 points, while Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, and Kasey Hill each had 10.

Out of the gate, the Great Danes set the pace, as Peter Hooley stripped the ball at one end and Puk knocked down a jumper at the other, giving UAlbany a 2-0 lead 30 seconds into the game.

Using a controlled and relaxed tempo on the offensive side of the ball, UAlbany built a four-point lead, 9-5, at the first media timeout, after Evans banked a jumper from the short corner, Johnson took a strong drive to the hoop, and Evans hit another mid-range jumper after shaking his defender off with a pump fake.

For Florida, Wilbekin knocked down a three, giving the Gators a 10-9 lead with 13:37 remaining in the first half, but Evans stepped up again, narrowly beating the shot clock buzzer, regaining the advantage for the Danes.

Florida answered back immediately and the dogfight ensued. The first half featured  11 lead changes and five knotted scores, while UAlbany held a three-point advantage three times. Sam Rowley’s strong post move on the low block put the Danes up, 17-14, at the 9:59 mark, and Puk knocked down back-to-back jumpers from the wing to give UAlbany a 21-18 lead with 8:51 remaining in the opening stanza.

Florida picked off a pass and completed a three-point play at the foul line to take a 23-21 advantage. The play had the potential to shift the tides for good, but the resilient Great Danes answered back immediately as Puk and Johnson executed a give-and-go, tying the score 23-23 with 8:00 minutes on the clock.

After impressive ball movement, Evans knocked down a three at the 7:02 mark, handing the Danes a 26-24 advantage, which would mark UAlbany’s last lead of the game. After Young threw down a dunk, senior Luke Devlin hit a jumper from the wing, knotting the score again, 28-28, with 4:46 remaining.

However, the Gators closed the first half with a 6-0 run, taking a 34-28 lead into the break.

The Great Danes started the second half with just as much poise as the first, cutting a seven-point deficit down to two, 37-35, by the first media timeout, as Rowley knocked down a pair of free throws, Johnson made a layup, and Evans hit a jumper and made both free throws after drawing a foul with the shot clock winding down.

Out of the timeout, Hill laid it in for the Gators, but Hooley answered back immediately, receiving a kick-out from Rowley and drained a three, cutting the deficit to one. On their next trip down the floor, Hooley tied the score for the fifth time in the contest. Hooley drew the foul and made one-of-two at the charity stripe, tying the score, 39-39, with 14:32 left.

However, that would be as close as the Great Danes would get the remainder of the way, as Florida went on a 9-0 run. Puk ended UAlbany’s scoring drought with an elbow jumper at the 11:03 mark, making the score 48-41.

At the other end of the court, Michael Frazier knocked down a three, giving the Gators their first double-digit lead of the game. After taking a blow to the head at midcourt, Evans hit both of his free throws, cutting the deficit to eight, 51-43, with 10 minutes to go.

Battling with all their might and holding their own against the SEC Champions, Johnson drained a three with 3:28 remaining, making it a nine-point game, 61-52.

However, Wilbekin answered with a three of his own on the other end of the court with 2:10 on the clock, and the Gators held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

In the game, UAlbany shot 39.2 percent from the field (20-51) and 30.8 percent from three (4-13), while Florida shot 51.0 percent from the floor (25-49) and 25.0 percent from behind the arch (3-12).

“It's one thing for a coach to put together a game plan,” said Brown. “It's another thing for a group of young men to go out and execute the game plan, and then I'm asking them to execute it against the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, so I think our guys deserve an awful lot of credit.

“Congratulations to Florida and Coach Donovan,” added Brown. “They have a legitimate chance to win the national title, and I thought we really challenged them tonight.  It was a great effort overall by our team.

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