Posted: 3:54 p.m. Sunday, March 17, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
History gets written by the takers. On Sunday, Mississippi authored its finest chapter in men's basketball in decades — and Florida added another worrying footnote to its book with a 66-63 loss in the final of the 2013 SEC Tournament.
The Gators squandered a 38-26 halftime lead, and trailed from the 8:42 mark of the second half until the end of the game, with Kenny Boynton's desperation three at the buzzer catching only iron. Boynton had 13 points, and he and Mike Rosario (18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Gators in both categories) combined for almost half of Florida's points on an awful day for Erik Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin (twin 3-for-11, 1-for-6 from three lines, and a combined 16 points).
Florida had its chance, too: Down two with under a minute left, Florida produced a turnover with pressure of Marshall Henderson, and took a timeout to set its offense. But Murphy being fed in the post only produced an off-balance 12-footer which didn't fall.
Florida held the Rebels under 1.00 points per possession, but allowed two stars to shine. Wilbekin harassed Henderson into a 6-of-14 performance from the field, and a 3-for-8 outing from beyond the arc, he was also whistled for two shooting fouls on Henderson threes, each swiftly converted to three points at the line, and Henderson's final made three of the afternoon, a difficult rainbow, was a back-breaker, and led to Henderson doing several Gator Chomps down Press Row.
Likewise, Patric Young (three points, just three shots, and four rebounds) and Murphy had no answers for Murphy Holloway, who led Mississippi with 23 points and 10 rebounds. And Florida couldn't capitalize at the foul line, making just eight of 17 shots and none of its six in the final five minutes. (That it couldn't overcome some shaky refereeing, including a blown goaltending call that produced a five-point swing for the Rebels, shouldn't be forgotten, either.)
The loss may well consign Florida to the No. 3 seed line, and perhaps a trip to the West Regional that should be topped by Gonzaga and might have New Mexico at No. 2, but, more importantly to fans, it leaves the bitterest loss of a season with one collapse for every three double-digit wins as the last memory of Florida basketball before the NCAA Tournament.
That hurts, as does the knowledge that Murphy, long the clamored-for savior of the Gators in late-game situations, played one of his poorest games against a front line without a player taller than 6'9". But Murphy has been dealing with a knee injury all week, and added an ankle injury that sent him to the locker room in the first half; Boynton went to the locker room in the second half after a hard fall on a foul that led to a stoppage of play — both for Boynton's injury and for referee review of a possible flagrant foul for Boynton's errant elbow.
Florida could have entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament having swept the SEC's regular season and tournament crowns. Instead, it will go in beaten, bruised, and perhaps a little broken, given how shattered players like Young and Yeguete seemed to be after the final horn in Nashville.
I still believe Florida is a very good team with the potential to be a great one. I think Florida playing games against non-SEC competition (and officiated by non-SEC refs), teams that have much less familiarity with the Gators' personnel, will help. I know how hard it is to get three wins in 72 hours, and my hat's off to Mississippi for getting three of its own in a 63-hour span.
I have faith. I can understand if you don't, if you're worried that Florida's too soft to win games. I can promise you that faith will make you a lot happier than skepticism for the next three weeks.
"In all kinds of weather" works better as a motto if you're not always trying to rain on your own parade.