In an important game for both teams' postseason hopes, the team battling to get off the NCAA bubble took out the one hoping to get on the NIT one.
Junior David Lee tallied 18 points, Matt Walsh added 17 and fellow sophomore Anthony Roberson chipped in 12 as visiting Florida took out Arkansas 73-68 before 18,602 fans at Bud Walton Arena Saturday afternoon despite a brilliant individual performance from Razorback freshman Ronnie Brewer.
Brewer had 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes in a game where Arkansas (12-13, 4-10) lost despite almost coming all the way back from a 19-point deficit in the second half with a roaring crowd behind them.
"It was a phenomenal crowd," Razorback head coach Stan Heath said. "They gave us a lot of support and energy. We needed them here. We were ready to play this game. We were hungry to win. It was a good opportunity, but we just didn't get it done."
The Gators (17-8, 8-6) took control of the game and their Big Dance chances with a 19-5 run late in the first half, raced away early in the second half and then held on as Arkansas got within five.
Florida won its third straight game by shooting a sizzling 62.5 percent from the field in the first half and 58 percent overall while Arkansas shot 40.6 percent, was an unsettling 0-for-13 from 3-point range in the opening half on a day when the Razorbacks ended up shooting a frigid 2-of-25 from behind the arc.
"It's difficult when your shots aren't falling," Heath said. "When you are you're young, you get frustrated when your shots don't fall. We need to win an ugly game when things aren't always going your way."
The Gators were able to win despite the Razorbacks forcing 20 turnovers (Lee had 7) and having just nine and the hostile crowd, which include 6-0 junior point guard Marcus Walker of Kansas City O'Hara and 6-8 McGehee forward Mike Washington, who were both on unofficial visits.
"Coming to Fayetteville is always hard," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "It is one of the greatest environments and in all basketball. There is great enthusiasm and fan support here.
"I think we played well today, but I got concerned when we were up by 19," Donovan added. "There was so much time left that it allowed Arkansas to make some plays."
Jonathon "Pookie" Modica came off the bench again to add 17 points as was the only other Razorback in double figures when freshman Olu Famutimi ended with nine.
It was a far cry from Arkansas' 82-66 home win over South Carolina the previous Saturday in the last game the Razorbacks had played, one that had given them hope for getting the 14 regular season wins most expect are needed for an NIT berth.
"We were just off on our shooting and you can't blame that on the off week," Arkansas sophomore guard Kendrick Davis, who was just 2-of-9 and had just five points this Saturday after scoring a team-high 19 points off the bench last Saturday.
The Razorbacks host Alabama next Wednesday and then travel to Ole Miss on Saturday to end the regular season before entering the SEC Tournament March 11-14 in Atlanta.
"We missed some shots," Heath said. "They were good, open shots. But you can't get upset at these guys. They did what we asked. They really hustled. We just weren't able to cash in on the threes. You can't fault their effort because they played hard. They gave it all they could. You just have to suck it up and look at the next game."
Florida had Arkansas down 53-34 on Roberson's 3-pointer with 13:27 left in the game and still led by as much as 57-41 when Lee got loose for a reverse slam at the 10:08 mark.
The Razorbacks then started a run that would get them back in the game, a 11-2 one capped by Kendrick Davis' lay-up that brought Arkansas to within 59-52 with 7:13 remaining and forced a Florida timeout.
It got back to seven on Matt Jones' dunk off a Brewer pass a minute later, but Arkansas then failed to convert off a Florida miss and the Gators built their advantage to 11 with just under two minutes left.
Arkansas' press then forced a trio of turnovers, the first pair resulting in lay-ups by Famutimi and Brewer that got the Razorbacks within 69-64 with 1:23 remaining.
But they couldn't convert a third Florida miscue and the Gators then hit their free throws down the stretch for the win.
Florida was 7-of-9 from the free throw line during the contest while Arkansas hit 14 of its 21 charity tosses.
"It was an important game for them," Heath said. "They came into a hostile environment, but they did a good job and came in and got a win. You just hate to give up a win in your own house."
Florida 73, Arkansas 68
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