GAINESVILLE, Fla. | Nick Calathes couldn't get Florida into the NCAA tournament. Now, he's doing all he can to keep the Gators in the NIT.
Calathes scored 21 points, Alex Tyus added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Florida beat in-state rival Miami 74-60 in the second round of the NIT on Friday night.
It was Calathes' second straight solid performance after struggling at the end of the season. He averaged 11 points in Florida's final six games, a stretch that kept the Gators out of the NCAA tournament for the second time in as many years.
He's played considerably better in the NIT, scoring 40 points in two games.
"I'm feeling good," said Calathes, whose slump might have been caused by a late-season illness. "I wish we were in the NCAA tournament. We're here. If we're here, we might as well try to win it."
Florida (25-10) improved to 18-1 at the O'Connell Center this season, tying a school record for home wins, and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals. The top-seeded Gators will host No. 2 seed Penn State on Tuesday night.
Florida, which lost in the NIT semifinals last year, can only hope for another strong start. Miami (19-13) got way behind early, trailing by 22 points in the first half, and never recovered. The Hurricanes cut the lead to 11 three times in the second half, but couldn't get any closer.
"There's no pressure," Florida guard Walter Hodge said. "We're just playing. We wanted to get to the (NCAA) tournament, but we just have to play what we've got."
The Gators made seven of their first 10 shots, including four from 3-point range, and led 20-2 with 11:36 to play in the first half. It was reminiscent of their first-round game against Jacksonville, in which they opened up a 21-point lead early.
Miami, meanwhile, missed nine of its first 10 shots. The Hurricanes had hoped to get the ball down low and be physical against Florida, a tactic that worked for many Southeastern Conference teams this season.
But Miami's first seven shots were from behind the arc. The Hurricanes missed their first eight 3-point attempts and finally got one to fall when McClinton hit with 9:35 remaining.
"Early in the game, I thought we took a lot of quick, long jump shots and it put us in a bind," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "That really hurt us. They capitalized on that, got the long rebounds and put us back on our heels."
Florida was up 31-9 lead with 7:53 left in the first half. The 'Canes sliced the lead in half thanks mostly to 3s from McClinton, Lance Hurdle, Brian Asbury and Adrian Thomas.
But Florida pushed it back to 48-32 at halftime on consecutive hustle plays from Ray Shipman. The freshman grabbed an offensive rebound and drove to the basket with less than a minute to play, then stole a pass in the lane and dribbled the other way in the closing seconds.
Chandler Parsons found Calathes wide open, and the point guard drained a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
Calathes finished 6-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range. He added seven assists and six rebounds, drawing rave reviews from Haith.
"Awesome," Haith said. "I love him. He's as good a point guard as there is in the country. If there's a guy out there that can pass the ball better than him, I want to see him. The kid is just terrific. With his size, he makes such a difference in the game.
"I absolutely love the kid. We had a tough time keeping him out of the paint, and he made such great decisions. He's a great player, I mean a great player."
The Gators shot a season-high 63 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and were 8-of-16 from 3-point range. They cooled off some in the second half, but Miami did little to mount a comeback.
The Hurricanes were outrebounded 37-25 and finished 7-of-25 from 3-point range. McClinton was 5-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-9 from behind the arc.
"We dug ourselves a hole and just couldn't get back into the game," McClinton said.