Florida beats St. Joseph's 74-63 at Hall of Fame tourney
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) First-year Florida coach Mike White remains in learning mode with his players, figuring out what they can do and how to put together the pieces left behind by Billy Donovan.
But Gator fans have a degree of familiarity with the key guys in orange and blue. They expect Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson to make a difference when games are on the line. And that's exactly what that trio did Saturday as Florida rallied from a six-point deficit in the final six minutes to defeat Saint Joseph's 74-63 in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
Finney-Smith, a senior forward who started 24 games last season, hit only four shots from the field but his 3-pointer with 1:19 left capped a 17-3 run by the Gators and gave them an eight-point lead.
''My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open,'' Finney-Smith said. ''We stayed together. When adversity hits and we're in the huddle, the guys are saying this is when we need to pull together. We got stops when we needed them.''
White went to a matchup zone that bothered the Hawks in the closing minutes.
Hill and Finney-Smith led the way with 13 points each and the Gators outscored the Hawks 40-30 in the second half. Robinson, coming off the bench, had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The victory keeps Florida (3-0) unbeaten under White and sends the Gators into Sunday's championship game against Purdue, a 61-39 winner over Old Dominion.
''We grinded one out,'' White said. ''It's early for all these teams. We're finding out more and more about ourselves every day. We never got into a good rhythm offensively. A lot of that had to do with St. Joe's. But we remained poised and made big plays late in the game.''
Even though it is early in the season, some may argue that the Gators are playing more poised already this season than they did last year under Donovan, now head coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.
Florida was 16-17 under Donovan last season and the Gators failed to make the postseason for the first time since 1996-97 - Donovan's first season.
James Demery led Saint Joseph's (3-1) with 17 points. Isaiah Miles had 16 and DeAndre' Bembry tallied 10. But the Hawks shot 40 percent, committed 14 turnovers and had only nine assists. Saint Joseph's missed 11 free throw attempts and shot 59.3 percent from the line.
''We've got to capitalize on the foul line,'' Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. ''Our goal is 75 percent from the foul line. Our goal is 75 points. If we get to those two numbers today, I think we're in the winner's circle. We've got to turnaround and play better basketball tomorrow.''
Chris Chiozza hit a step-back 3-pointer with four seconds left before halftime to give the Gators a 34-33 lead at the break. Chiozza also had the assist on the 3 by Finney-Smith that gave Florida the eight-point lead.
''I don't know,'' Martelli said when asked how Florida is different from the Donovan era. ''They stopped pressing when Billy Donovan's teams would have kept pressing. ... They shot 25 percent from 3. But the 3 at the end of the half and the 3 by Finney-Smith, you could say those were separators. So they still shoot the 3 and there's a certain amount of confidence.''
Florida: The Gators had eight different players hit a 3-pointer against North Carolina A&T earlier in the week. That was the most since the team tied an NCAA record with nine players connecting from behind the arc on Nov. 18, 2006 vs. Chattanooga. Florida finished 8-for-32 Saturday but six players had at least one.
Saint Joseph's: Junior forward DeAndre' Bembry was named to the Preseason Top 50 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award earlier in the week. In the Hawks' last game, Bembry scored his 1,000th career point against Buffalo on No. 18. He became the 52nd Hawk to reach that mark and the 22nd to achieve it in his third season.
Florida plays Purdue in Sunday's championship game.
Saint Joseph's plays Old Dominion in Sunday's consolation game.