NEW YORK – Casey Prather did what seniors are supposed to do – lead their team in a tough spot.
Prather scored 22 points, including Florida’s last eight of the game, and the 16th-ranked Gators beat No. 15 Memphis 77-75 in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
“I was just trying to be smart on offense and be aggressive,” he said. “The ball just happened to find me. It could have been any of my teammates.”
Prather made two free throws with 27 seconds left to give Florida (8-2) a 77-73 lead. Shaq Goodwin made two free throws with 19 seconds left to bring Memphis (7-2) to 77-75.
Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 17 seconds left giving the Tigers a chance for the tie or win.
After calling a timeout with 10.8 seconds to go, Memphis’ Joe Jackson drove to the basket but his shot was partially blocked and the clock ran out when the ball was hit by Dorian Finney-Smith toward midcourt.
It was quite a different ending on an end-game situation for the Gators from their game against Connecticut when a miss was back-tapped and Shabazz Napier of the Huskies hit a jumper at the buzzer for a 65-64 win.
“The UConn game ended on a fluky play when the ball got tipped,” Gators coach Billy Donovan. “We punched it out to not give them another opportunity.”
Finney-Smith added 14 points for the Gators and Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II both had 11.
Jackson had 17 points for Memphis, which had a six-game winning streak snapped, while Geron Johnson had 13 and Chris Crawford and David Pellom both had 12.
Jackson said the final play was designed to give him some options.
“I was going to make something happen,” he said. “I was going to find someone, shoot or get fouled. Unfortunately it just didn’t go in tonight. I knew I was going to get by him but the paint clogged up quick. They’re long and quick.”
Both teams had good shooting games despite solid defense from both teams.
Florida shot 51.9 percent from the field (28 of 54), including 7 of 16 from 3-point range, while Memphis shot 47.4 percent (27 of 57) and was 6 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Florida was able to give itself some breathing room in the second half with an 11-3 run that gave the Gators a 69-61 lead with 5:55 to go. Freshman Kasey Hill had five of the points.
The Tigers got back in a hurry with a drive by Jackson and a 3 by Crawford that made it 69-66 with 4:08 to play.
The Gators’ two losses were to No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 10 Connecticut, both on the road. They beat No. 18 Kansas 67-61 last Tuesday at home, a game in which they forced 24 turnovers.
“These games have helped us get better,” Donovan said. “I think every game is an opportunity to learn and grow and get better. It’s still very early in the season.”
The Tigers split two games with No. 7 Oklahoma State, losing 101-80 at Stillwater and winning 73-68 in the Old Spice Classic championship game.
“This was a high level game. It felt like a Sweet 16 game,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “All you can ask for is to have the ball in your hand to tie or win the game and that’s what we had and it didn’t go our way but give Florida credit. We’ll grow from this and get better.”
It was the second time the schools met with Florida winning 84-83 on Dec. 18, 1976, at St. Petersburg.