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Florida relies on senior leadership to get past Arkansas in OT

Jan 11, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

Florida Gators v Arkansas Razorbacks Getty Images

Saturday’s SEC road contest at Arkansas could have easily been a letdown for No. 10 Florida. The Gators were missing leading scorer Casey Prather and multiple other Gators were banged up, including Scottie Wilbekin (ankle), Patric Young (knees) and Michael Frazier II (calf).

But that didn’t slow the Gators down as they held off Arkansas (11-4, 0-2) for an 84-82 overtime road win at Bud¬†Walton Arena, as the Gators (13-2, 2-0)¬†persevered despite trailing for much of the second half. The win for Florida ended Arkansas’ 23-game home winning streak.

While Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith did his best to duplicate Prather’s missing production with a phenomenal overall effort of 22 points and 15 rebounds, it was the play of seniors Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin — Florida’s “bench” in this contest as both starters came off the bench due to injury — that came up big down the stretch.

The Gators had three chances to tie the game at the end of regulation and after its first two miserable possessions, it looked like Arkansas would escape with the upset. Young — clearly still bothered by the sore knees that forced him to miss Florida’s Thursday practice — airballed a hook shot from a few feet away and freshman guard Kasey Hill traveled on the second possession.

But after Alandise Harris missed a free throw for Arkansas, Florida had a third chance to tie (or win) in the final minute of regulation with the Razorbacks leading 66-64. With Florida out of timeouts, Scottie Wilbekin calmly went iso — working the strong side of the floor — and knocked in a tough contested mid-range turnaround off-glass to tie the game with two seconds left.

Young and Wilbekin then scored five quick points for Florida to open overtime and the Gators never looked back as they held on for the win.

For Young and Wilbekin to play through injuries, come off of the bench and come through down the stretch was huge for Florida. Finney-Smith carried the Gators for large stretches of time, but Young and Wilbekin really stepped up big to help put the Gators over the hump against Arkansas.

Playing on sore knees that made Young run awkwardly with his legs jutting outward without bending his knees — think of childhood Forrest Gump in his leg braces as Jenny screams “Run, Forrest, Run!” and you’ll get an idea of how Young looked running at times — the senior center managed 10 points and eight rebounds while also being enough of a paint presence on defense to make Arkansas’ interior looks that much more difficult as Florida made its run in the second half.

Wilbekin also struggled at times and couldn’t find his shot, but he wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line and refused to lose this game for Florida. The senior had 18 points off the bench and was 8-for-10 from the free throw line in helping close the door on Arkansas.

Florida has been banged up and dealt with suspensions all season. The Gators have faced adversity in tight games and lost on a buzzer-beater on the road to UConn. It wasn’t pretty, but Florida got all that it needed from its injury-prone roster to win a tough SEC road game against the SEC’s highest-scoring offense in a tough building.

The Gators keep finding ways to win and Billy Donovan trusts this group of guys. It’s scary to think how good this Gators team could be if they were fully healthy, but they’re getting it done for now and that’s all that matters.