NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kasey Hill scored 18 points, including a clutch layup with 53 seconds remaining that helped eighth-seeded Florida outlast No. 9 seed Arkansas 68-61 on Thursday in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Gators led 55-46 with 6:45 remaining before the Razorbacks rallied within 60-59 with 1:07 left on Dusty Hannahs' layup. Hill then sliced through for a layup to provide some breathing room, and Florida (19-13) added six unanswered points to seal a victory it needed to rebuild its NCAA Tournament resume'.
Florida shot just 39 percent and made just 18 of 30 from the foul line. But the Gators came up with the timely free throw, basket or rebound they needed to advance to Friday's quarterfinal against top-seeded Texas A&M.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 13 points and KeVaughn Allen 11 for Florida.
Hannahs scored a career-high 33 points for Arkansas (16-16), which shot 36 percent.
Florida sophomore center John Egbunu added nine rebounds and eight points despite playing with a brace on his right thumb that was injured in practice on Tuesday. Those contributions were also huge in a game the Gators led most of the way before needing late heroics to seal the win.
A late charging foul on Arkansas' Anton Beard after Hill's basket was also critical, leading to Finney-Smith's two free throws with 26.8 seconds left. Egbunu's defensive rebound led to Devin Robinson's slam and Allen added two free throws with 4.1 seconds for the exclamation point.
Florida won the first SEC tournament meeting between the schools since 2009 and this one was important in getting the Gators into the NCAA Tournament discussion. Their main concern was stringing together back-to-back wins after a four-game slide, a quest made more challenging by questions about Egbunu' availability.
Kevarrius Hayes played the first 2½ minutes in place of Egbunu, who appeared to need some time adjusting to playing with the hand and wrist bandaged. He seemed more inclined to be a physical presence on defense before eventually getting on the board with a dunk that helped the Gators tie the game at 15.
Egbunu became more involved by diving into a loose-ball scramble before asserting himself on the boards with six first-half rebounds that got Florida out of a back-and-forth battle into a 29-23 lead at halftime. The Gators shot just 37 percent but offset that with good perimeter defense that held the SEC's top 3-point shooting team to 0-for-6 from behind the arc.
Moses Kingsley had 10 points and 14 rebounds for Arkansas, which finished just 2 of 12 from long range and struggled at key moments to lose a game in which it outrebounded Florida 45-40.