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As No. 23 Florida tried to get the basketball up the court in the final seconds of a tie game with Ohio State on Wednesday in the championship game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, it seemed like the Gators might benefit from using one of their three remaining timeouts to set up a final play. Instead, coach Mike White opted to let his team figure it out it on the fly, and the decision paid off in thrilling fashion as Tyree Appleby nailed a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Florida a 71-68 victory.
Appleby pulled up from about 10 feet behind the 3-point line, rose above the outstretched arm of Ohio State defender Jimmy Sotos and hit nothing but net on the shot, which prompted the Gators’ bench to mob the 6-foot-1 junior guard in celebration. It was one of the most thrilling finishes of the season to date, and it capped a tense game that Ohio State led for more than 33 minutes.
With 13:06 remaining, the Buckeyes took a 47-37 edge. But Florida was more aggressive down the stretch, outscoring the Buckeyes 10-3 in second-chance points during the second half and hitting 16 of 21 free throws in the second half. But Appleby was an unlikely hero. He was just 1 of 9 from the floor until his final make. Phlandrous Fleming Jr. led the Gators with 19 points and four steals as the Gators converted 18 Ohio State turnovers into 22 points.
Junior forward E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 23 points, although his miss with eight seconds left set up the frenetic final sequence. The victory improves Florida to 5-0 and further validates the Gators’ early-season rise into the AP Top 25. Ohio State is now 4-2, and the Buckeyes must play No. 5 Duke on Tuesday in their next game.