Gators Give Billy D Homecoming Gift

Thomas Wolfe wrote "You Can't Go Home Again" but obviously that didn't apply to Billy Donovan Thursday night. Florida's New York-born and raised basketball coach took his young, inexperienced Gators to his old stomping grounds where they hustled their way to a 77-72 win over eighteenth-ranked Wake Forest in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden.

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Florida (3-0) advances to the finals of the tournament Friday night against the Texas Tech-Syracuse winner.

Thursday's semifinal matched the Gators with their freshman-sophomore dominated roster against the more experienced Deacons who returned three starters off last year's 27-6 team that at one point was ranked number one in the nation. Led by sophomore point guard Taurean Green, Florida played like the more experienced team. It was Florida's unselfish play on offense and poise on the defensive end that stifled Wake Forest, predicted by most experts to finish second behind Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year.

Green played the game of his young Florida career. He scored a career best 23 points with 4-8 three-point shooting and 7-8 from the foul line. He also had five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Sophomores Corey Brewer and Al Horford added 15 and 11 points respectively for the Gators who balanced out the attack with nine points from Lee Humphrey and eight from Adrian Moss.

Despite their youth, the Gators played like the team with the most experience and poise. They never backed down from the Deacons even though they had to battle through serious foul troubles that put the starting front court of Horford and Joakim Noah on the bench for major minutes.

To counter Wake Forest's experience and inside bulk the Gators turned it into a full court game, stretching the court with a pressing man-to-man defense in the first half and then backing out of the press into a zone in the second half when Florida needed to protect its foul-prone big men. The press kept the Deacons from pounding the ball in the half court game but it also forced Wake Forest into 21 turnovers, including 12 in the first half.

Wake Forest concentrated its perimeter defense on Florida shooting guard Lee Humphrey, who entered the game on a 9-14 streak from three-point range. Humphrey got very few open looks from beyond the arc, but he did knock down three of four shots. The efforts to shut him down, however, opened up the game for Green, who responded with the best game he's ever had in a Florida uniform.

The Gators didn't get their first points from Humphrey until 3:26 remaining in the half when he knocked down a three-ball.

Wake Forest jumped out to an early, 11-7, lead but Florida kept its poise even though the Gators pulled the trigger on a few ill-advised shots from behind the arc. Florida got into early foul trouble and that forced the Gators to get help from the bench. Moss, David Huertas and Chris Richard gave the Gators positive first half contributions on the offensive end.

Horford went to the bench with his second foul at the 8:52 mark in the first half but the inside game didn't suffer. In his absence, the Gators got unexpected offensive production from senior Adrian Moss, who had scored three points total in Florida's first two games of the season. Moss scored six first half points and he added two more in the second half to go with eight strong rebounds.

Florida broke the game open in the second half when Green and Corey Brewer combined for 10 points on a 12-7 run that extended the Gators to a 61-54 lead with 8:36 left in the game. Green and Brewer combined on a highlight reel play when Green got a steal and then finished it with a perfect alley oop lob to Brewer, who slammed home the dunk.

A three-ball by Green and a dunk follow by Horford with 2:28 remaining extended the Gators to a 70-61 lead. Wake Forest was forced to foul the rest of the way and though the Gators weren't perfect from the line, they hit just enough free throws to keep the game out of reach for the Deacons.

The Gators shot 48 percent for the game (25-52) and showed their unselfishness with an excellent 17 assists for their 25 made shots. The Gators were 8-21 from three-point range.

Defensively, the Gators had 10 steals and three blocked shots.

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