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College basketball

Gators squeak past 'Canes

UF 94, MIAMI 93 (2OT): Justin Hamilton's free throw wins it after Florida lets a 19-point lead slip away.

By MICHAEL SNYDER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2002


MIAMI -- This one had none of the hype of September's football game.

But what Saturday's Orange Bowl Classic basketball game between Florida and Miami lacked in hype, it more than made up for in drama.

The No. 13 Gators averted an upset 94-93 on Justin Hamilton's free throw with six seconds left in double overtime.

"The Miami players kept hearing they had no chance of beating us," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think they wanted to prove that wrong."

Freshman Matt Walsh led the Gators with a game-high and Classic record 33 points. He added 11 rebounds and five assists.

The 33 points are the most by a Gator freshman since Vernon Delancy's 38 against Alabama on Jan.24, 1981. Walsh was 7-of-10 from the field (5-of-6 on 3-pointers) and 14-of-14 from the free-throw line.

"I always had confidence in my shooting," Walsh said. "But now I am just starting to make the big shots."

Matt Bonner had 16 points and 12 rebounds to help Florida overcome 24 turnovers. The Hurricanes were led by Darius Rice's 32 points, which included five 3-pointers. James Jones scored 26.

The Gators (8-2) won their 17th in a row against Florida teams and are 26-2 in December the past three seasons.

But this one wasn't easy as Miami rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit. Neither team led by more than three during overtime, and there were five ties during the second overtime.

"I thought our team looked more comfortable than we were against Florida State," Miami coach Perry Clark said of the 72-55 loss on Dec.8. "At times, we played their pace. We were taking open looks and knocking them down."

The Gators led 83-81 with 15.5 seconds left in the first overtime, but James Jones got open under the basket and layed it in with 3.7 seconds left.

A finger roll by Rice pulled Miami within 60-59 with 6:01 left in regulation. After Walsh put the Gators ahead 70-65 with 2:40 left, Rice made two free throws. The Gators committed their 20th turnover, and Jones' tip-in left Florida ahead 70-69.

Walsh made two free throws to push the lead back to three, but Rice's 3-pointer, with Hamilton in his face, tied it at 72 with 26.4 seconds left. The Gators held the ball for the final shot, but Anthony Roberson's shot caromed off the back rim.

Despite the game being in Miami, Gator fans dominated the arena.

Miami (4-4), which has lost games at Florida Atlantic and Florida State, temporarily quieted the pro-Florida crowd by taking a 15-8 lead.

But with the score 27-27, the Gators went on a 16-0 run during the final 6:33 of the half. Leading 43-29 at the break, Bonner made a 3-pointer to make it a 19-point game early in the second half. Four consecutive Florida turnovers culminating with a 3-pointer by Jones made it 46-40. The 11-0 run ended when Bonner made two free throws.

"We kept hearing that it wasn't going to be much of a game," Donovan said. "We knew we were going to get Miami's best effort."

The Gators got that, Rice said.

"They know that we are probably one of the toughest teams that they have played, and we need to get that message across to all the teams we play," he said. "I think we did that. And if we do that in the Big East, then we will do fine."

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