While the University of Arkansas brought far more to the basketball court than Ohio State did to the football field a night earlier, both still ended up being Gator Bait in the end.
Taurean Green led the way with 17 points and all five Florida starters scored in double figures as the defending national champion and No. 2 Gators held off the visiting and unranked Razorbacks 79-72 Tuesday night in a game that was nationally televised by ESPN from the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
Darian Townes had a double-double off the bench with season highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds while Sonny Weems added 13 for Arkansas (12-4, 1-1), rallied from double-digit deficits in both halves and led Florida (15-2) midway through the second half.
"It was a hard fought game and those guys in the locker room left it all out there on the court," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "They gave 100 percent. I don't think it was our best game in terms of being in a rhythm…but I don't question those guys effort. They battled and clawed and scrapped and that's the best team in the country. "
Razorback junior point guard Gary Ervin continued his fine play with 11 points, 9 assists and just one turnover in 39 minutes and freshman Patrick Beverley 10 points for the Razorbacks who were trying to build off a 27-point home rout of No. 8 Alabama and came in riding a four-game winning streak.
"I thought Gary had a strong performance with 11 points and 9 assists," Heath said. "He had a tough matchup in Taurean Green, who is very difficult to guard and gave us a lot of problems in a lot of different ways. He (Ervin) made some great passes. I thought he set Darian Townes up very well on a lot of fast break opportunities as well as Sonny Weems. I think he is getting better and you can tell it's a big difference in our team right now."
Townes, the 6-10 junior forward sent to the locker room for mouthing two games ago, also continued his revival.
"He stepped up big for us with 18 and 10 and I thought D came to play." Heath said. "I thought he had a few more shots that he could have put down, but he was 8-of-13 from the field and it was a very strong performance from him."
Corey Brewer added 13 for Florida while Joakim Noah, Lee Humphrey and Al Horford all added 11 each.
Arkansas missed its first nine shots from the field before making its next 13-of-21 to crawl back into the game and played close despite a night when they were 2-of-15 from 3-point range while hitting 42.9 percent of their shots overall from the field.
The Razorbacks did battle evenly on the board with Florida to the tune of a 41-41 deadlock and had just 11 turnovers against a team that has been outscoring its opponents by an average of 26 points per game.
"I learned an awful lot about our basketball team and I think we are going to be very successful on the road and in hostile environments because of the toughness I think our team has," Heath said. "We didn't back off. You look at the boards and they're even. We were strong with the ball and only had 11 turnovers against a team that tries to disrupt you and force you into a lot of bad decisions."
Florida hit its first trio of 3-pointers and its last three while missing 10 in between.
"The tough thing was going 2 for 15 from the 3-point line and they were 6-of-16 so I look at a seven-point difference there," Heath said. "I look at the opportunity to make some shots and you have got to do that in this type of environment."
Arkansas went on an 8-2 run to right before the break to get within 37-36 at halftime, which was highlighted by the introduction of the Gators' national championship football team that blasted Ohio State 41-14 on Monday night in the BCS title game.
Florida's basketball team, returning all five starters from its national championship squad, blew that one=point lead out to a 50-40 advantage when back-up center Chris Richard hit a pair of free throws with 13:43 left in the game.
But the Razorbacks responded with a 14-3 run, a spree capped by Townes' dunk and free throw and Beverley's 3-pointer – Arkansas' first make from there of the night – that gave the visitors a 54-53 lead with 10:33 left in the game.
Horford scored inside to give the Gators back the lead, added another and soon afterwards both Green and Humphrey bombed in 3-pointers that pushed Florida ahead 65-56 with 5:41 showing on the clock.
"Humphrey and Green kind of got it going in those corners and we had a couple of breakdowns in those areas of not locating them as quick as we needed to," Heath said.
But Arkansas couldn't get any closer than six from that point on until Stefan Welsh buried a deep 3-pointer with 5.3 seconds left to cut it to within 77-72.
"There was a lot of electricity in this building and they are coming off so many things and their crowd was really fired up," Heath said. "We knew they were going to have a big run at the start of the game and we also knew at the start of the second half we had to withstand a big huge push. But the guys didn't put their heads down and they clawed their way back."
Heath hopes to see that same type effort on Saturday when Arkansas continues its road swing with a trip to Oxford to face Ole Miss.
"It is always tough to go to Ole Miss and that has always been a nemesis for Arkansas to win games there, but it's a very important game for us," Heath said. "I grabbed our team and made sure we had their attention that if we play with this kind of intensity we will win the game down there, but we can't let our guard down. We have to come out and have some good practices and we have to go down there a very hungry ballclub."
Florida 79, Arkansas 72
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