ORLANDO, Fla. — Billy Donovan’s bench came up big, bailing out top-seeded Florida in a tight game against what was supposed to be an overmatched opponent.
Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, most of them on dunks, and the Gators used a second-half surge to beat No. 16 seed Albany 67-55 in the NCAA tournament Thursday.
The Gators (33-2) showed some vulnerability, though, while extending their school-record winning streak to 27 games.
Donovan’s team sleepwalked through the first half, swapping the lead back and forth with the pesky Great Danes, but Florida’s bench provided a much-needed spark.
Finney-Smith, the Southeastern Conference’s sixth man of the year, was 6-of-10 shooting and tough to handle in the post. Freshman guard Kasey Hill, who wasn’t sure he would be able to play because of turf toe, chipped in 10 points off the bench and was dynamic on the open floor.
Patric Young finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. Casey Prather (16 points) and Scottie Wilbekin (10) also reached double figures for Florida, which will play ninth-seeded Pittsburgh in the South Region on Saturday.
DJ Evans led Albany (19-15) with 21 points and seven rebounds. He set the tone for the Great Danes early, but couldn’t do enough to pull off the most elusive enough in college basketball.
Florida’s win made No. 1 seeds 117-0 against 16 seeds since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
But this one was far from a lopsided affair.
The first half couldn’t have gone much better for Albany, which was back on the court less than 48 hours after the program’s first NCAA tournament win. The Great Danes, who beat Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four in Daytona, Ohio, made 10 of their first 15 shots and hung with Florida.
Albany did an impressive job breaking Florida’s press. And coach Will Brown had a clear game plan on defense: Don’t let Michael Frazier II get any clean looks from 3-point range, beg Prather to take jumpers and sag in the post on center Young.
The Gators took the bait — for a while.
Frazier was scoreless in the first half, Prather turned into a jump shooter and Young was missing early on.
But Donovan adjusted, like he’s done so many other times this season, and got Florida rolling. Wilbekin started driving and dishing, creating easy baskets for Young and Finney-Smith at the rim. Finney-Smith had six consecutive points that seemed to get the SEC champs going, and Prather followed with a three-point play.
Florida’s final 10 baskets of the first half were in the paint.
Still, Donovan was livid at halftime and ripped his players for a lack of defense.
They responded with a 9-0 run early — spearheaded by defense — in the second half that turned out to be the difference. Young started it with a three-point play. Hill followed with a driving layup and then added two free throws after a turnover. Will Yeguete got another steal, and Finney-Smith’s emphatic dunk capped the spurt.
It was exactly what Florida needed.
The Gators pretty much held on from there, making enough post plays and free throws to keep Albany at bay.
For Florida, the NCAA tournament has been the goal all season. But as the wins mounted, they turned their attention toward winning a national title.
They’ve looked capable much of the season, becoming the first team in SEC history to finish the regular season 18-0 and then won SEC tournament by pulling out tight games against fellow NCAA tournament teams Tennessee and Kentucky.
But their performance Thursday left Donovan and many bracket managers shaking their heads.