By: Jenna Ladd
Close finishes seem to becoming a trend for the Florida Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC), first with Tuesday’s game against Alabama, and now with a 57-56 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-5, 5-3 SEC) on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Florida.
Dorian Finney-Smith finished what he started at Alabama, slamming home a total of 3 dunks on his way to 16 points. Not only did Finney-Smith have a strong scoring game, but he also raked in nine rebounds as well.
Many people would say that Michael Frazier’s performance is a step back because he went 2-9 from the field, including 0-5 from downtown, however, he had a massive impact on the Gators’ defense and made the clutch pair of free throws that gave his team the win.
“I knew it was going in,” Finney-Smith said of his teammates final play. “He had a tough night shooting, but I told him earlier in the game that he was going to make the game-winning play. He wasn’t making shots but he affected the game with offensive rebounds, and defensive rebounds, and playing defense.”
In the beginning of the game, the Razorbacks took a 6-0 run over the Gators. Instead of dropping their heads, Florida got its head in the game and came back with a 6-0 run of their own, tying the game up for the first of six times on the afternoon.
Florida stole the lead for the first time with 9:12 left in the first half with a score of 18-17. This lead did not last as Florida entered a scoring drought that stretched over 3:47, but their defense held Arkansas to only one basket over that span.
The score bounced back-and-forth before finally settling in the Gators’ favor at 29-27 going into halftime after Finney-Smith nailed a jumper with just three seconds left in the half.
Coming back from halftime, the intensity of both teams emanated from the court. Both teams took turns making baskets for the majority of the second half, until Arkansas came off with a 7-0 run that trimmed Florida’s lead down to two with just four minutes remaining.
The last 15 seconds of the game was a nail-biter, with the Gators in the lead by just one point at 55-54 when Dorian sent Arkansas’ Alandise Harris to the charity stripe for two shots. Harris hit the first of his two shots, but Razorback guard Anton Beard nabbed the rebound and scored a layup that gave Arkansas the lead with just over 10 seconds left in the contest.
Now it was time for the Gators to play with the desperation that they have been talking about all season. Chris Chiozza missed a layup but Frazier was able to recover and drew a foul, earning the Gators a trip to the free throw line.
Frazier, who only scored four points up to that point, drained both of his free throws handing Florida the victory by just one point at 57-56. Despite his struggles shooting, Michael seemed calm and confident when he went to take his shots with just 1.9 seconds left.
“I knew it was 1.9 seconds, but I’m not thinking about having 1.9 seconds left,” Frazier said. “It adds too much pressure. I just go out there and do what comes natural.”
Hopefully the Gators will be able to keep up their momentum as they head back on the road to battle Vanderbilt (11-9, 1-6 SEC) in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, February 3. Tip is set for 9:00 p.m. and it will be aired on ESPN.