Florida blows 20-point lead, but still finds a way to win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Florida was about to blow another first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. A 20-point lead was gone, and 13th-seeded Ohio was poised to pull off the upset.

This time, though, the fourth-seeded Gators caught a few breaks and held on for a 67-62 victory over the Bobcats in the opening round of the Syracuse Regional on Friday.

"I was happy the way our guys inside the last minute found a way to survive and win and have a chance to play on Sunday," a relieved coach Billy Donovan said.

Florida was more lucky than good in avoiding a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past four years. With the score tied at 60, Ohio's Sonny Troutman had a layup blocked by
David Lee with 1:16 left, and the Gators gained possession.

Then Anthony Roberson caught Lee's off-target shot and converted a three-point play with 42.3 seconds left and the Gators went ahead to stay, 63-60.

"Florida teams of old would have gotten beat by 10 or 15 points," Lee said.

Florida (24-7) came into its seventh straight NCAA Tournament hoping to forget about first-round losses of the past. Last year, the Gators were seeded fifth and lost in the first round to Manhattan.

Ohio coach Tim O'Shea kept reminding his team of Florida's recent struggles and told them in a time-out that they could add their names to the list of NCAA upsets.

They nearly did. Trailing 55-35 with 11:51 left, the Bobcats went on a 20-2 run and tied the game at 60 with 2:12 left on Mychal Green's sixth 3-pointer. Ohio (21-11) rallied from 19 points down to win the Mid-American Conference title.

The comeback had fans at Gaylord Entertainment Center cheering for the Bobcats, and Donovan tried to stop Ohio's momentum with three timeouts.

Instead, Lee threw up an air ball from 15 feet that Roberson caught under the basket and put it back up for only his only bucket of the second half. Terren Harbut fouled him, and Roberson added the free throw for a 63-60 edge.

The Bobcats didn't score again until the final seconds, and the Gators sealed the victory with four straight free throws.

"I think our guys got careless, and that carelessness created an, 'Oh my gosh, it's going to come down to the wire,'" Donovan said.

O'Shea was impressed with his team.

"Typically, we've managed these types of comebacks all year long. To do it in the NCAA Tournament against the SEC champs against a team that just came off a 17-point win over Kentucky, I think we represented the MAC very well today. It would've been great to have another miracle win to talk about," he said. "It wasn't to be."

The Gators advanced on a day when Roberson, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, shot only 3-of-15 from the floor and finished with 11. Matt Walsh led the Gators with 18 points despite hitting only 3-of-13, but he was 9-of-10 at the free-throw line. Lee added 14.

Ohio even outrebounded Florida 33-32.

But it will be Florida, now winners of eight in a row, who will play the Villanova in the second round Sunday.

"At this point, it's just survive and advance," Lee said. "There's no future seedings or future tournaments. It's not how many you win by. It's surviving, and that's what we had to do today."

Ohio hadn't been to the tournament since 1994, and the Bobcats gave the Gators a scare with assistant coach Kevin Kuwik, an Army captain using his two-week leave from his engineering company in Iraq to cheer them on from the bench.

He kept reminding the Bobcats of all their comeback victories in the last two years.

"The kids kept scratching and clawing," Kuwik said. "Were proud of everybody."

Green finished with 24 points for the Bobcats. Troutman added 13 for a team that got only two points from its bench.

Donovan was able to keep his Gators relatively fresh in comparison, rotating off his deep bench with seven different players scoring.

Florida led 36-28 at halftime after closing the first half with an 11-2 run capped by a Lee dunk with 1:02 left.