One season ago, the Florida Gators turned in a 0-6 record in games decided by less than 10 points. With a 77-75 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday night, the Gators improved to 4-2 this season alone in such games.
While not technically a road game, Florida traveled to New York, NY to face Memphis in the Jimmy V. Classic at Madison Square Garden. It was the Gators third-straight game against a ranked opponent and second-consecutive victory. Florida improved to 2-2 this season against ranked opponents. As the polls stand today, the Gators won’t face another ranked opponent until February 4, 2014 when they host the Missouri Tigers.
The player of the game was a no-brainer as the honor goes to senior forward Casey Prather. Prather shot 8-of-13 from the field, a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, and led all scorers with 22 points. He put in the final eight points the Gators would score and made four free throws in the final 1:20 to help Florida to the win.
To say Prather has been a surprise this season would be a gross understatement. The senior was expected to see more playing time and showed flashes last season that proved he would be able to answer the call with increased minutes; however, he has performed at a higher level than any would have expected. He leads the team with 18.7 points per game and has already surpassed his points total from last season. Prather was expected to be a contributor, but has surpassed that expectation and has become a vital part of Florida’s success.
Of the three transfers eligible to play for the Gators this season, redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is the one continuing to make a name for himself. (Of course, Eli Carter is redshirting while injured and Damontre Harris isn’t likely to ever play for the Gators.) In 29.0 minutes per game for Virginia Tech during the 2011-12 season, Finney-Smith averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds. In almost four less minutes per game for Florida, he is averaging 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. While Carter heals and Harris possibly looks for another opportunity elsewhere, Finney-Smith is taking every possible advantage of the opportunity to play for the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan and is performing admirably.
Freshman guard Kasey Hill isn’t back to his old self just yet, but he was able to play 20 minutes or more for the second-consecutive game since returning from injury. Hill had his ups and downs during the win, struggling early. Sometimes it’s hard to remember he’s just a freshman and still has a lot to learn. Missing four games didn’t help the process, but Hill will continue to grow. The Gators will need him at his best if they hope to make a deep tourney run come March.
Florida improves to 8-2 with the win. With three non-conference games left before SEC play begins, the Gators are in a good position to have a nice streak riding into the new year. Florida will travel to another neutral site on Saturday to face the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL. The 4:30pm game can be seen on Fox Sports Net.