Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Gators come up big on senior night with win over Arkansas

Sometimes Canyon Barry surprises himself.

He had one of those moments Wednesday night when Arkansas was threatening to cut Florida’s dwindling lead down to 5 points with just under 3-and-a-half minutes left in the game.

With the Gators (24-6, 14-3 SEC) hanging on by a thread to a 69-61 lead, Dustin Thomas went up for what he thought would be a dunk but Barry, better known for 3-point shooting and underhanded free throws, roofed Thomas and got his left hand on top of the ball to erase the shot.

“I’m surprising every now and then,” Canyon Barry said after his defensive gem triggered a 10-4 run that allowed 12th-ranked Florida to knock off the Razorbacks (22-8, 11-6 SEC), 78-65, clinching the #2 seed in next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville.

“He [Barry] doesn’t always show how athletic he is,” Florida coach Mike White said. “In the testing that we did in the fall, actually his speed, quickness and vertical leap are better than you think. I want to say he tested at a 38-inch vertical, which was first or second on our team. Defensively, he hasn’t exactly been in position to block shots for us but that was huge.”

Kasey Hill retrieved the blocked shot and found that extra gear to blow through some midcourt traffic to the 3-point line where he pulled up and launched. That wasn’t exactly what Florida coach Mike White was looking for but Hill drained the 3-ball to complete a 5-point swing that gave the Gators a 72-61 lead.

“That was a ‘no, no, Kasey, great shot Kasey’ to be honest with you,” White said. “It took some guts. He made some other big shots but it was a big play.”

Hill went on to hit 4-4 from the foul line in the final 1:30 to put the finishing touches on a Senior Night that ended well for all four of Florida’s fourth year guys. Hill scored 12 points, hitting 5-6 from the foul line and added 4 assists. Barry led the Gators in scoring with 14 points but he also came up with 4 rebounds and 3 assists in addition to the blocked shot. Justin Leon scored Florida’s first 2 points of the game and Schuyler Rimmer scored 2 points and grabbed a rebound in the first four minutes.

“Those four guys are great players who have had a huge part in recreating a winning culture here at Florida,” White said. “They have created a culture of unselfishness and holding people accountable through their play that I think has been our team’s biggest strength. Those guys are great people and most importantly who I have enjoyed coaching and being around and they will all be successful in life.”

But seniors weren’t the only story. Keith Stone, who has battled illness for a few weeks, broke out of his funk to pick up Florida’s offense when it was fading in the second half. Over a 4-minute stretch, Stone got a 3-point play the old fashioned corner with 5:47 to go that gave the Gators a 64-53 lead.

This was a night when Stone had to come through for the Gators, who spent the evening battling foul troubles that forced White to play Kevarrius Hayes, Rimmer, Stone and little used freshman Gorjok Gak in the middle. Gak scored 2 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and blocked a shot but Stone came through with his best effort since scoring 17 in Florida’s win over Georgia back on January 14.

“If Keith was still in his funk that he had earlier in the season with the illness, I don’t think that we’d win this game,” White said. “He gave us valuable minutes with the huge offensive rebound and the timely 3-pointer that he hit.”

Although the Gators had stretches when they struggled defensively, particularly when Hayes and Devin Robinson were riding the pine with foul troubles, this was still a signature effort. In winning its five previous games, the Razorbacks averaged 83 points and came into the O-Dome as hot as any team in the SEC. On this night, however, the Gators locked them down.

Arkansas shot 21-59 from the floor overall (35.6%) and only 6-16 from the 3-point line but the Razorbacks are a streaky team and White says the Gators never were comfortable with the lead.

“I thought we had some slippage, especially in transition defense,” White said. “Arkansas is as dangerous an offensive team as there is. Look at their last five games. Their offensive numbers are terrific. They have three wings that can go get 28 on most any given night and Moses Kingsley was preseason SEC Player of the Year. You can’t play 90% energy and intensity level and communication level or the Razorbacks are going to make you pay.”

Arkansas was good for a few mini-streaks that got them close and left the O-Dome crowd of 10,978 wondering if UF could hold on, but each time the Razorbacks got close, someone stepped up for Florida particularly after a couple of time outs that White described as “volatile.”

Florida shot 56.7% in the first half while bolting out to a 41-28 lead at the intermission, but the Gators just never seemed to get in a great second half rhythm until the final three minutes.

“In the first half they were doing whatever they wanted to do,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “In the second half I thought we were doing a better job of building the wall and making them shoot jump shots.”

The Gators shot only 44.4% in the second half, but they came alive when it counted most, allowing the four seniors to finish their Florida careers with a win. White took a moment to reflect on what each of his seniors has meant to the program that has gone from 21-15 and the NIT in his first year at the help at UF to a team that is fairly close to locking up either a #3 or #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In describing Leon, White used the word “toughness.” For Rimmer the word was “attitude.” For Barry it was “sacrifice” and for Hill it was “perseverance.”

Collectively, White said, “We can utilize our depth and you can hold guys accountable because of the culture that these guys have been a part of creating and the selflessness they play with.”

On this particular night, selflessness came through in a big way. There was no dominating scorer as all 10 Gators who played scored. Barry scored 14 to lead the way while Hill, Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen scored 12 each.

“I think that speaks to this team in general how any given night any person can step up and have a big game,” Barry said. “I’m so really happy for those guys that we were able to send all of us out on a win and give the Gator fans what they want.”

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