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Florida wins in Walker's debut

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Florida trailed at half in the Stephen C. O'Connell for the first time this year, but the hot hand of shooting guard Michael Frazier II bailed the Gators out in a come-from-behind win over Missouri.

Freshman PF Chris Walker had a solid debut in a 68-58 win over Missouri.

The Gators (20-2, 9-0 SEC) overcame a three-point halftime deficit to top the Tigers (18-6, 4-5 SEC) by a 68-58 score.

"It was one of those things where just nothing came easy," coach Billy Donovan said. "It was a struggle. It was good to see our guys go through that struggle and come out with a win."

Florida struggled to generate any sort of consistent offense in the first half, settling for too much passing around the perimeter and not enough penetration into the post.

Missouri was hot from beyond the arc, knocking down four three-pointers in the first half. None was bigger than one at the buzzer by Jabari Brown, instantly deflating the momentum Florida had gained just moments earlier.

With freshman Chris Walker making his debut, the O'Dome reached a fevered pitch as he checked in.

He was active early on, picking up two quick blocks before he brought the roof down with a pair of thunderous alley-oop dunks. Both were dished by Kasey Hill to the right side of the rim, where Walker skied to slam them down and bring the crowd to its feet.

But after the second dunk, with just six seconds left in the half, Brown answered with a buzzer-beating three to give the Tigers a 28-25 halftime lead.

"In some ways, I think it made things better for our team going into the locker room down three," Donovan said. "Chris gets that dunk and all the sudden, we're feeling good about ourselves. It kind of deflated Chris' play, which got us recentered, refocused on what we needed to do in the second half."

It wasn't until Walker checked in later in the second half for a brief stint that Florida really turned the corner in the game, though.

Down 45-43, the crowd ratcheted up the intensity again, and Frazier delivered the punches that put the Gators on top for good.

The sophomore shooting guard drained three straight three-pointers in a 1:52 span to help key a 16-3 run that put the game safely out of reach.

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin finished the game from the free-throw line, where he went 13-16 to end with a game-high 19 points.

"He actually hit 86 free throws (in practice) two days ago, so I just went up to him and I said '86 in a row,'" senior center Patric Young said. "And he said 'yeah, you right.' I think he missed like two of them, so he shot pretty well."

Walker finished with four points, two rebounds and two blocks in seven minutes of game action in his debut.

Donovan's hopeful that with the hype of his first appearance now in the books following a 12-game NCAA-mandated suspension, he can begin to integrate into the team more normally with a little less pressure.

"Now I think the biggest challenge for us as a coaching staff is continually getting him more and more reps, more and more comfortable with what we're doing, more confidence and slowly trying to get him more and more minutes," Donovan said.

Florida will return to action Saturday at noon when it hosts Alabama in a nationally televised game on ESPN. The Gators won the previous meeting this year 68-62 on the road.

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