Florida 74, Purdue 67

By: Jesse Kurtz
By: Jesse Kurtz

NEW ORLEANS -- Al Horford flexed his biceps and offered an imposing stare as he posed for television cameras.

Florida's most physical player had reason to show off a little bit.

Horford had 17 points and nine rebounds and helped the defending national champions withstand a game effort by plucky Purdue in a 74-67 victory Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"I guess they felt like they were going to make Al score one on one," teammate Corey Brewer said. "They made a bad decision."

Ninth-seeded Purdue played just about how it wanted against the Gators -- slowing down the tempo, rebounding well with a smaller lineup and keeping the game close much of the way.

But the top-seeded Gators took advantage of their tournament experience. They never panicked and made several clutch shots down the stretch to advance to the round of 16.

Horford had three big buckets in the final minutes, and Brewer hit a spinning jumper and then made six consecutive free throws to seal Florida's 14th consecutive postseason win.

"We knew we had to make plays down the stretch to win," said Brewer, who finished with 17 points and eight boards. "We couldn't get frustrated because they were going to be physical; they were physical the whole game. We just took it upon ourselves and just made plays."

Especially Horford.

"If I'm in a rhythm and I'm feeling comfortable, I want to get the ball and I want to make plays for the team," he said.

The Gators (31-5), trying to become the first team to repeat as champions since Duke in 1992, advanced to play fifth-seeded Butler in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday in St. Louis.

Carl Landry led Purdue (22-12) with 18 points and 10 rebounds. David Teague and Chris Kramer added 14 each.

"They just made big plays," Teague said. "They capitalized on a couple of turnovers and a couple of miscues ... and that is what champions do: they step up and make plays down the stretch.

"That was the difference in the ball game."

Florida trailed by five points in the first half and was down at halftime for the first time in nearly three weeks.

But the Gators slowly started to impose their will on the undersized Boilermakers. It started with the 6-foot-10 Horford, who backed down the 6-7 Landry all game. Horford's post presence also opened several outside shots.

Florida missed most of them in the first half -- the Gators were 2-of-10 from behind the arc -- but Taurean Green hit consecutive 3s to put the team ahead 43-38 with 12:35 remaining.

Landry came up big for Purdue, helping keep the Boilermakers close.

But Lee Humphrey had another 3-pointer with about 6 minutes to play that put the Gators up by five.

Horford and Brewer did the rest.

Horford had three low-post baskets in the final 3 minutes and finished 7-of-9 from the floor -- his only two misses were jumpers that rimmed out in the first half.

Brewer was 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Joakim Noah had nine points and nine boards.

The Gators were 6-of-8 from the floor and 14-of-14 from the free throw line in the final 6:43.

"Guys knew what time it was," Horford said. "We weren't executing well all game. When it came down to it, we knew it was going to be a grind, and we were able to execute the game the right way and get the shots that we wanted."

Green and Humphrey were off most of the game. They finished a combined 5-for-15 shooting and 4-of-14 from 3-point range.

Horford picked up the slack, especially when Purdue stopped double-teaming him late in the game.

Horford stared toward the Purdue fans after a late dunk and pounded his chest. Noah was on the other side of the floor riling up the Florida section that included the team's three famous fathers -- former tennis star Yannick Noah, former NBA player Tito Horford and former UNLV star and college coach Sidney Green.

Now, the fathers and sons are moving on.

"This is fun right now," coach Billy Donovan said. "They should enjoy winning. I know they wouldn't enjoy the other side of it if we were going home and this was over, so we need to enjoy this.

"They need to be kids and have fun and enjoy this experience because they've worked hard to get to this point."


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