GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For Dorian Finney-Smith, his offensive night had been a battle of wills between himself and the unforgiving rims at the O’Connell Center. Twelve shots, just two makes. Even a couple missed dunks.
All night long, though, Florida coach Billy Donovan reminded the kid they call “Doe-Doe” to forget the last play and do something about the next one. Live in the present, not the past.
So there was Finney-Smith, standing at the free-throw line, with 1.3 seconds left in a tie game against the rival Florida State Seminoles. There had to be a lot of thoughts swirling through his head when senior center Patric Young approached him with two words the instance in crystal-clear focus.
“Be great,” Young said.
Finney-Smith wasn’t great on the first free throw, but was on the second, and as FSU guard Ian Miller’s dead-on desperation half-court bomb bounced off the back of the rim, the 15th-ranked Gators had a 67-66 victory over the Seminoles before a sold-out house of 12,306.
Make that five straight wins for the Gators (6-1) in their series with the Seminoles (5-2).
“Coach D and [the assistants] just told me to move on to the next play; move on to the next play,” Finney-Smith said after hopping off the bench to finish with six points and grab a game-high 10 rebounds, the last after guard Scottie Wilbekin missed a driving, contested jumper with the clock winding down. “I tried to do what he said and ended up coming up with the game-winning free throw. I stayed in the next play, stayed in the moment, and it made me not think about all my misses.”
Collectively, the Gators, winners of five straight, could have been thinking about how they blew a nine-point lead in the final 6:15, as they watched the Seminoles go 10-for-10 from the free throw line inside of four minutes to tie the game on a pair from Miller (13 points, 5 assists) with 28.3 to go.
Instead, they managed to close out a close game for the first time in a couple seasons. Remember, every game during the 2012-13 season — all 29 wins, all eight losses — was decided by double-digits.
“It was a really ugly game for us,” Donovan said after watching his team shoot 36.4 percent from the floor and 62 percent from the free-throw line. “Give Florida State credit. They probably had a lot to do with it, but I don’t think we played great. We didn’t take advantage of what was there.”
The Gators got drawn into the kind of game the Seminoles like: a slugfest in the paint (UF scored 32 points inside, compared to 26 for FSU) and war beneath the glass (UF won the battle of the boards 38-37, including 20 offensive rebounds, against an FSU team with two 7-footers).
“When you play a nationally ranked team as a good as Florida and you give up 20 offensive rebounds,” Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said, “it’s going to be difficult to overcome.”
Senior forward Casey Prather led all scorers with 19 points, followed by sophomore guard Michael Frazier, who continued his torrid 3-point shooting pace by going 5-for-8 from distance to finish with 17 points.
The Gators struggled to find rhythm in their half-court offense, with Wilbekin, in his second game back from his suspension, matching Finney-Smith’s 2-for-12 from the floor. Wilbekin, though, had eight assists and five steals to atone for his misses.
Finney-Smith, of course, helped his teammate atone for the last one. UF’s final play was designed for Wilbekin to create a shot for himself.
“Scottie was going to take it,” Finney-Smith said. “Coach told us to attack the glass. That’s what I did.”
On a night when UF had two key players — guard DeVon Walker (foot sprain) and point guard Kasey Hill (ankle sprain) — sidelined by injuries, junior walk-on forward Jake Kurtz gave the Gators 18 terrific minutes to finish with eight points and five rebounds against a gigantic FSU lineup.
“Thank God we have him with all the injuries we’re battling,” Donovan said.
On the bench, UF also was thanking the high heavens that Finney-Smith was there to grab that rebound.
“That was a situation not many people get to be in in their life … and Doe-Doe got a chance to see what it was like,” Young said. “I told him to be great. He was great.”
This could have been a crushing loss. Instead, it was an inspired victory. And it made for quite a teaching moment for the Florida coach, who at one point had to take Finney-Smith from the game because his body language was so bad.
“Not toward anybody, but just [toward] himself,” Donovan said. “I told him, ‘You’re draining energy from me. I’ve having a hard time trying to get excited coaching just watching you walk off the floor.’ To his credit, he moved on. I thought our guys did that the whole game.”