No. 9/11 Florida Gators basketball (24-5, 14-3 SEC) captured the fourth outright regular-season Southeastern Conference title in school history on Wednesday during Senior Night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida also finished undefeated (15-0) at home for just the second time in program history and locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming 2013 SEC Tournament.
Check out the videos below, courtesy of GatorVision.tv and the Gainesville Television Network‘s Julie Quittner, to see what you otherwise have not seen unless you were in attendance at the game – the Senior Night ceremony, Gators cutting down the nets and post-game celebration. Continue reading for the rest of what head coach Billy Donovan and the seniors had to say about the victory and Senior Night festivities.
» Donovan on the impact of winning the SEC regular season title: “I was happy our guys could do that. … Because of unbalanced schedules now, because of all the conference expansion, because of the attention on March Madness and Selection Sunday, a lot of people don’t necessarily pay attention to conference championships or view them as a great accomplishment. For the people that go through the grind of a nine-week schedule with no time off and having to come every day to practice, prepare for every game, deal with the ups and downs, highs and lows, injuries, setbacks, guys getting healthy, guys coming back, it’s an incredible and a terrific accomplishment for our team considering the things that we’ve had to overcome.
“I was very happy they could celebrate that and they could share in it together. To be able to do it on our home court for Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario – a lot of times on Senior Night it doesn’t quite get the chance to end like that for you. You go undefeated at home your senior year, you clinch a conference championship outright, and you walk off the court with an opportunity to cut down nets. I was very happy for those three guys.”
Read the rest of what Donovan and the seniors had to say…after the break!
» Donovan on the significance of this particular title due to the obstacles Florida has been faced with during the season: “I think they’re all special. There’s all different ways you have to go through getting there. … I’m really proud because we had to really do it in maybe a unique way because of injuries and setbacks and unhealthy team. There’s always that roller coaster ride during the regular season. There’s going to be some really high moments; there’s going to be some really low moments.
“I’m not so sure walking out of Fayetteville, AR if you would have said to me, ‘You guys are going to win the league outright with a game remaining,’ I would have said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ You have those incredible low and high points. For these guys, I was really, really proud of them because we’ve battled through some difficult things this year. … These moments are never easy. It’s a grind. It can be ugly. It can be frustrating. It’s a challenge. It’s about persevering, about being resilient, about continuing to fight. And that’s what we did.”
» Donovan on what the SEC title means to him personally: “I almost feel like the older I get, it’s probably like your kids, so to speak. You almost get more enjoyment out of seeing them happy than you do for yourself. I’ve been blessed to have coached a lot of really good players, and I’ve been blessed to experience a lot of really high and incredible moments. … I hope in some way, if there’s a valuable lesson for them to learn when they leave here, it’s what can really be accomplished in anything in life when a team or a group of guys come together and they put a common goal out there in front of them and they strive and reach for it together. And the amount of sacrifice that goes into it all the way around, I think there is a lot to be learned from this team for each other going on to the next step.”
» Donovan on how the senior class looked to him before the ceremony and game (and a story about Rosario): “I was a little bit concerned. I say that because I’ve never seen this happen before. I’m going to say this because I do love him and everybody always asks about he and I’s relationship. There must have been about 15 minutes to go or 16 minutes to go on the clock and Rosario comes racing into the locker room, and I can tell he looks disheveled. I’m like, ‘Mike, what are you doing.’ ‘I just got to do something.’ ‘Mike, we’re warming up right now.’ ‘I got to do this.’ And he pulls out his phone and he’s dialing his mother because he can’t see her, she’s not out there, and he wants to make sure she got in here. I’m like, ‘Mike, listen, just go warm up. Your mom is going to be OK.’ So it was really a big deal for him. Erik Murphy was emotional. Kenny was as emotional as he can be. He doesn’t show it as much. I was concerned coming out of the locker room. I could just tell the look on their faces.
“There is a realization that is really, really hard. The realization when you get ready…this is it. Erik Murphy will never, ever, ever – or Kenny Boynton or Mike Rosario – ever take another shot in this building again. It’s over. That’s how fast it goes by, and I think sometimes these guys get that realization when they’re sitting there like, ‘This is it. This is it.’ Sometimes in those kinds of moments it’s really hard to get your team emotionally where they need to be, but I thought they did a pretty good job of getting themselves ready to play.”
» Donovan on his team playing hard until the end: “The scoreboard does not give you the right not to do your job. It’s a 40-minute game. You have responsibilities to take care of when you’re out there. You have a job to do when you’re out there.”
» Donovan on if he went over the team’s flaws after the game: “There will be plenty of time tomorrow to get better.”
» Boynton on what he was thinking on the bench during the final two minutes: “I was just thinking I’m going to miss the O’Dome. I had some good moments in here. But to go out like we did today, winning the SEC Championship here, I definitely will remember it.”
» Murphy on if there is any better way to go out than on a night like Wednesday: “I can’t think of one. I can’t. At home, no, I can’t think of one.”
» Murphy on when it hit him that it was his last game in the O’Dome: “I tried to hold it together. I knew I was going to cry at some point. I don’t think I cried when we got introduced; I held it together for that. I was just trying to stay focused on the game because if we lost, that would’ve sucked. As soon as we came out at the end, sat down on the bench … that’s when it just hit me. It was a special feeling.”
» Rosario on the night as a whole: “It was special. Just to go out with an outright [title] on our Senior Night and just having all the guys on our team just focused on just winning the game for us, it really meant a lot to me, Murph and Kenny. All the obstacles that we fought through since we’ve all been here, it all paid off for us. That was kind of emotional, too, because our teammates love us to death. We really commend those guys and respect those guys because those guys came in every day and worked their tails off just as much as we did. I felt like for us to get to this moment and to get to this particular day, we would never have gotten here without our other teammates. I thought they did a great job of being behind us through thick and thin, and I thought that they did a great job today.”