ORLANDO, Fla. – They came to Gator Country as the ultimate underdogs, the Great Danes of Albany with their funky uniforms and their plucky style.
They ended up stealing some moments, some hearts and almost some history.
Sixteenth-seeded Albany withstood a physical onslaught, a withering press and a distinct height disadvantage to run with No. 1-overall seed Florida for a good deal of its second-round NCAA tournament game here Thursday in the South region. Although Florida pulled away with ferocity late to win 67-55, the visitors from "UAlbanY" had a bunch of fans wondering, "Is this happening?"
The Danes had to win just to show up, landing at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday after a Tuesday first-round game while the best team in America casually rolled down the highway from Gainesville. Some of the Albany players hardly slept on the night before game day.
They ended up waking up the entire hoops-loving nation. Albany was tied with Florida nearly 10 minutes into the second half.
One of these days, a bottom seed is going to beat a top seed in this tournament. A recent rash of 15 over 2 upsets makes something impossible seem more fathomable. We can only hope that landmark school will be a team like Albany. The Danes were heady and steady, blinking not once, even when Florida's football-sized players dunked, blocked or bowled them over.
Guard D.J. Evans – at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, the smallest player on the court – was knocked to the court twice in wince-inducing hits, and got up to lead his team from the point as if he just took off his warm-ups. A situation meant for frustration never showed on the Danes' faces.
There was nothing neutral about this neutral site, with the stands flooded with orange and blue. This regional is technically hosted by Stetson, but come on. This was more of a road game than almost any in-conference battle, considering how far Albany had to come and how little distance Florida had to cover.
If that's not enough, Florida's 2012-13 basketball revenue was $13.39 million, according to University of Miami professor Alicia Jessop, compared to $1.72 million for Albany. So be advised before rolling out the ugly uniform jokes.
Not that the Danes care. They responded to just about every Gator throwdown with a made jumper. They responded to almost everything. In the town where Cinderella lives, Albany brought a little bit of magic to match Florida's majesty.
Someday, a team like Albany will finish the job.
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