HOOPS: Gators Advance To New York In Tourney

Al Horford doesn't have to lead the Florida Gators in scoring or in rebounding to make his presence known in a big way. He is perfectly content doing all the little things that add up to big contributions during a game and that is one of the reasons the Gators are New York-bound after earning an 83-64 win over Albany in the second round of the 2K Sports Coaches College Hoops Classic Thursday night at the O'Connell Center.

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Horford only took four shots in the game and one of them was the most improbable shot of the night when he simply punched a loose ball with his fist and it somehow found its way into the basket with just 1:54 remaining in the game. He didn't have to score to impact the game, though. The 6-9 sophomore finished the evening with nine points and only five rebounds but he had a steal, a blocked shot, seven assists and so many other contributions such as keeping rebounds alive, and locking down the inside defense on Albany's big guys.

"Al's a monster," said 6-11 sophomore power forward Joakim Noah, who had 17 points and tied with Corey Brewer for a team high seven rebounds. "Al can fill up a stat sheet in a lot of different ways. He can get you a couple of steals; you'll see him running the floor on the break; you see him dribble the ball up the court. I'm so proud of him and the way he plays so unselfishly for the team."

Horford's unselfish play was one of the highlights for the Gators as they moved to 2-0 to earn their trip to New York next week for the semifinals of the 2K tournament. Florida had four players in double figures and 23 assists with 30 made shots, indicative of an unselfish team that takes the extra pass and moves the ball to the open man.

Horford set the unselfish tone early for the Gators with four assists on Florida's first five made shots from the field. He made two passes down low to Noah for dunks when he was double teamed, then kicked the ball to the outside to Walter Hodge and Lee Humphrey for wide open threes.

"The thing about Al is he makes such good basketball plays and he pays such attention to detail," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan. "They really doubled down on the low post big on big and Al did a tremendous job tonight of making the game easy for everybody. He never forced anything. He made the easy pass, the easy play.

"Chris Richard, Lee Humphrey, Joakim Noah … everybody benefited tonight off Al Horford. Al took four shots but had such an impact on our team because of his will to win and unselfishness. It's fun to watch him play because he plays the right way and pays such attention to what's going on. I don't know if since I've been here that I've had a center with seven assists and no turnovers."

Richard (14), Humphrey (15) and Noah (17) were all in double figures along with Brewer (18 points), who led the Gators in scoring for the second straight night. Brewer was named the Most Valuable Player for the Gainesville Region of the 2K College Hoops Classic.

It was Brewer's acrobatic three-pointer as the shot clock ran down at the end of the first half that set the tone for a dominant second half by the Gators. With point guard Taurean Green on the bench most of the half due to foul troubles and Albany benefiting from more than a few quick whistles, the Great Danes of the America East Conference held their own with the Gators, who led 42-39 when Brewer came up with a deflection in transition. The 6-8 sophomore took a couple of quick dribbles to his left and then let fly with an off balance rainbow from about 25 feet away that hit only the bottom of the net.

"I just threw that one up there," said Brewer. "You can call that one a prayer."

That answered prayer sent the Gators into the halftime locker with some momentum.

"That shot was huge for us," said Noah, who had 12 first half points. "We got a huge emotional lift and carried it over into the second half."

Where the Gators got the lift in the second half was on the defensive end of the floor. Torched for 19 points by Albany's Jamar Wilson in the first half, Florida put the clamps on the Great Danes' leading scorer in the second half. He only scored two points after the break. Wilson was 6-7 from the field in the first half including 2-3 from three-point range.

The Gators made stopping Wilson the second half priority, limiting the junior guard to just one shot from the field and forcing him to pass the ball to his less talented teammates.

Florida outscored the Danes 7-1 in the opening two minutes of the second half with Horford contributing assists on a dunk by Noah and a layup by Brewer that edged the Gators lead to 12 points (52-40). Florida made it look easy from that point onward with plenty of open shots and lots of intensity on the defensive end.

"I've seen Florida teams with more talent but I haven't seen a Florida team that plays that hard all the time," said Albany Coach Will Brown. "If they can keep playing that hard all the time, they'll win a lot of games this year."

Donovan felt the Gators played hard and gave consistent effort but left plenty of areas that need improving.

"Our level of unselfishness, the way we move and pass the basketball is very positive," said Donovan. "We have a lot of room for improvement, though, a lot of areas to get better."

One area that Donovan hopes to see improvement is in getting the ball passed inside first before the Gators launch too many threes. He would prefer that the Gators get the three ball on the pass coming back from the big guys when defenses sag back to help.

He would like Humphrey, 9-13 in the first two games of the season from beyond the arc, to be a little more aggressive shooting the three-ball, however. Donovan has continually called the junior from Maryville, Tennessee the best shooter he's ever coached.

"I was a little disappointed that of our first 21 shots, 11 were threes," said Donovan. "I'm really on our guys during the timeout and said we really need to pound the ball more inside. Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard and Adrian Moss need to touch the ball. Before you guys shoot [the three ball] the ball needs to go inside.

"Then I looked and said Lee, did you hear what I said? He said yeah and I said all that pertains to everybody else but you. Let it go when you're open."

Florida finished the night shooting 58.8 percent from the field (30-51) and 47.6 percent from three point range (10-21). Brewer thought the high shooting percentage begins with the team's unselfish attitudes.

"We're all friends and we're all unselfish," said Brewer, who led the Gators in scoring for the second straight night with 18 points. "It doesn't matter who leads us in scoring. Everybody feels confident. If we can keep playing like this, I think we can beat a lot of people."

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