Blowing an 11-point second-half lead and missing two three-pointers with the time ticking away in overtime, the (2) Florida Gators (29-8) were eliminated from the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, falling to the (8) Butler Bulldogs (27-9) 74-71 in the Elite Eight at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA.
Despite redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posting a career-high 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting, his four fouls proved to be a liability down the stretch. Butler guard Shelvin Mack was quick and elusive all game, scoring a game-high 27 points including his team’s final five in extra time.
The Gators used a 7-0 run to jump out to a 10-point lead with 7:01 remaining, but the Bulldogs finished the half on a 17-8 run to cut UF’s advantage to just one point.
The Gators frontcourt scored their first 18 points of the game and was responsible for 11-of-12 baskets in the opening half; a fastbreak dunk from sophomore guard Kenny Boynton was the backcourt’s only field goal.
Butler forward Matt Howard began the second half with a bang, hitting a three-pointer out of the gate to give the Bulldogs their first lead since 14:12 remained in the first half.
Leading 37-35, Butler missed 13 of their next 14 field goals as Florida took off on a 14-3 run – including eight points by senior F Alex Tyus and a pair of layups by Boynton – to jump ahead a game-high 11 points, 51-40. Macklin, who sat on the bench for four minutes with three fouls, picked up his fourth two seconds after he returned and immediately left the court with 9:00 to go.
The Bulldogs did not wait long to get back in the game, using a miscue by Tyus and a quick pace to create a 9-2 run that cut the Gators’ lead to four points with 6:35 to play.
After sitting out 7:48 due to his four fouls, Macklin returned to the court for Florida. However, Butler continued to chip away at their deficit, using a 5-0 run to tie the game at 57 apiece with 3:02 remaining in the contest.
With the Gators leading 60-59 and 33.7 seconds left, the Bulldogs inbounded the ball to Howard, who missed a jumper but was fouled with 30.7 seconds still on the clock. He proceeded to hit only one of two free throws, but Walker missed a trey at the buzzer to send the game into overtime tied at 60.
Tied at 62, Butler F Khyle Marshall turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play, putting his team ahead with 3:33 to play. With the Bulldogs back up three, Boynton found himself open at the top of the key and hit a huge three to tie the game at 67 with 2:21 left.
Two free throws by BU later, Walker put the Gators back ahead with his first field goal of the game, a three-pointer from the left elbow. Mack responded in kind, hitting a dagger trey to give Butler a 72-70 lead. On the line for two shots, Walker only hit one and the Bulldogs got the ball back with 52.1 seconds left and a one-point advantage.
Mack missed an open three-pointer on Butler’s next possession, giving the ball back to Florida down one with 29.2 seconds remaining. Quick out of the timeout, Boynton clanked a long but open three-pointer and Howard stole the rebound from Tyus, who fouled Mack on the next inbounds play. Mack hit both free throws, allowing the Gators one last chance to hit a three with 10.6 seconds to go.
Receiving the ball from Boynton, Walker threw up a three-pointer with eight seconds left but hit the front of the rim as the Bulldogs ran on the court to celebrate their second-straight appearance in the Final Four.
Butler hit nine more treys than Florida, a major difference in the game considering how cold UF was from beyond the arc. Howard was the Bulldogs’ only other double-digit scorer, posting 14 points and five rebounds.
Tyus achieved his second-straight double-double for the Gators with 14 points and 10 boards, while Boynton contributed 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Walker, who was a sloppy 1-for-10 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, added eight points (five on free throws).
Florida’s loss was their first in the Elite Eight in school history; previously the Gators were 4-0 in the NCAA Regional Finals, advancing to the Final Four each time and the national title game on three occasions. Butler won its first overtime game of the season on Saturday; they were 0-3 before the victory.
THREE NAMED TO ALL-REGION TEAM
Tyus, Macklin and Boynton were all honored with nominations to the 2011 NCAA All-Southeast Region Team. They were joined by Howard and Mack of Butler, the latter of whom also won the region’s Most Valuable Player award.
Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press