Putting together a fantastic run to end the season, the No. 2-seed Florida Gators fell just short in the Southeast Regional Final of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, dropping a heartbreaker 74-71 in overtime to the No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs. It was the first time in school history that the Gators fell in the Elite Eight and did not advance to the Final Four. The teams’ coaches and players spoke with the media following the contest, and OGGOA has compiled the most important news, notes and quotes for you to peruse below.
SENIORS GO HOME DISAPPOINTED
Saturday’s loss was devastating for the entire Florida program but perhaps no one more so than the team’s trio of seniors – forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus and redshirt center Vernon Macklin.
“Right now it’s tough to end a season like that, especially for me with Chandler, Alex and Vernon,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve provided so much for our program, and I’m proud of them. The thing I mentioned to them in the locker room after the game was that, when a group of guys decide to come together and try to become a team – a real team – a lot of great things can be accomplished. When you go after trying to accomplish something, there is the other side that the losing is even more painful because you have so much invested in each other. When you have that kind of investment in each other, losing at this time becomes much more difficult. These guys came together as a team, and the losing part hurts, and you want it to hurt because you want to get the opportunity to play for what we played for [Saturday].”
Macklin was the most despondent of the three in the post-game press conference, sitting with his head in his hands looking down at the table. Unlike Tyus, who talked about just moving on, he and Parsons were able to articulate their thoughts. “It’s been a great run. I love my teammates. I love my coaching staff. I’m sad to see it all end right now, but it’s been a great time at Florida,” Macklin said. “I’m glad I came here and got a chance to play with these guys, play under Coach Donovan and with this coaching staff.”
Parsons added that he will likely feel this pain for a while. “It hurts right now. It’s what it was made out to me. It is everything I thought it was,” he said of playing in the Elite Eight. “I had a great career here. I loved every day coming to practice, playing with my teammates. I loved the opportunity that we had tonight. Right now it’s just disappointing because we fell short. We wanted to be out there right now celebrating. It just hurts to end this way. […] I haven’t been in this situation. It hurts right now, so right now I have a terrible feeling. I almost feel sick to my stomach. My career is not over. I plan on playing basketball for a long time, so I can’t dwell on it my whole life. But it’s definitely a disappointing time, a sad time for me, because I wanted to keep playing with these guys.”
DONOVAN OUTCOACHED STEVENS, NOT OTHER WAY AROUND?
Sentiment from Gator Nation following UF’s loss Saturday was that Donovan had been outcoached by Butler’s Brad Stevens because Florida took threes at the end of regulation and overtime. However, according to Stevens himself, Donovan did a number on him the entire game. “[The Bulldogs] carried their coach today in a big way. I got outcoached big-time,” he said. “The last thing that I’m going to do is question [the Gators], because I got outcoached pretty thoroughly today. We’re just lucky that our guys are good players.”
VIDEO: See handshake, final one-fourth of the clip.
What is lost in the rush-to-judgment opinions and extreme calamity about Florida’s final shots are two facts: (1) A team was on the floor defending them so the Gators could not do whatever they wanted, and (2) The execution of each play was not necessarily how Donovan drew it up. To conclude regulation, junior point guard Erving Walker was supposed to try to penetrate and either draw a foul or kick the ball open to someone for a potentially shorter jump shot. At the end of overtime, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton should have taken it to the hoop rather than launched a deep three.
“I don’t try to coach anybody else’s team. [Donovan]’s going to be a Hall of Famer whenever he decides to retire,” Stevens said. “I understand what they were doing at the end of regulation. You don’t want to give us the ball at all. The reason [Walker] didn’t get any penetration is because we trapped the ball screen and stayed up with him. He got a pretty good look for a pretty good player. I know this: I was scared when the shot went up. I wasn’t scared when Boynton’s last shot – that heave from about 80 feet – went up.”
Donovan shared similar sentiments. “You want to put the ball in a guy’s hands that you feel like can make that kind of shot,” he said. “In regulation, we got Erving Walker a great look; he told me he had a great look and was really wide open. He was disappointed he missed that one. […] I probably would have liked to seen Kenny drive the ball when we were down by one, I would have preferred that. But he’s another guy that has made some big shots for us. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball to try to create some contact. You know what? He’s made some shots in some really big situations for us to even be at this position. It’s hard for me to say it’s a bad shot. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball. He’s made some huge threes in second halves of games and overtimes for us all year long. If it goes in, we’re talking about how Boynton’s clutch shooting continues. But it didn’t go in, and that’s what happens.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO MACKLIN?
By all accounts, Macklin had a dominant game for the Gators in the post. However, three early fouls and a fourth tacked on exactly two seconds after he returned with 9:02 to play in the second half made him ineffective. His free throw shooting down the stretch also made him a liability that Florida could not gamble on in the clutch.
“I felt like Vernon was going to have the opportunity to play on-on-one from the post. He had a great game, gave us a big-time scoring presence inside,” Donovan said. “We went to Vernon to start overtime, and he was 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Certainly we were trying to go inside, but when Vernon comes off the floor, I don’t know necessarily if we have a low-post offensive presence. I knew at that point in time, they were just not going to allow him to do what he did in the first half. If he was going to get an angle, they were going to foul him. I made a decision to at least pull him out and go with Patric [Young]. Patric probably, as a freshman, is not as seasoned and polished as Vernon is as a senior, so he’s a hard guy to go to. And Alex is not that kind of physical presence.”
Even Macklin agreed that he should have been off the court. “[Being in foul trouble was] frustrating. I wanted to be on the floor,” he said. “[I was pulled for] two different reasons. I’m not that great of a free throw shooter, so I didn’t want to jeopardize my teammates. I think Coach Donvoan made a great decision. I picked up some early fouls and some dumb fouls I shouldn’t have got. That’s on me; I should have been in the right position.”
DIFFERENCE IN THE GAME: GRABBING LOOSE BALLS
Things unraveled for the Gators at about the same time Macklin picked up his fourth foul. The Bulldogs went on a quick run to reduce UF’s 11-point lead, partially because Florida was unable to grab a number of loose balls and defensive rebounds which gave Butler a extra possessions. “The difference in the game was right around the 9:00 mark; there was an enormous amount of loose balls that we did not come down with that they came down with,” Donovan explained. “We had two three-point shots that were blocked; they came down with and scored. We had a couple free throws where they missed – one we actually tipped the ball in – that hurt. The game was won by them on loose balls.”
Donovan on his team’s effort: “They became a team. They gave themselves an opportunity to go to the Final Four, and they fell short of that, but they did everything in their power physically, mentally and emotionally to try to win.”
Donovan on if the players will realize what they did accomplish: “They’ll all get over it. It will take some time. Right now we lost, but there will be a time when they look back on where they were in December and they’ll see a better picture of how far they came. You never want it to end. You want it to keep on going.”
Donovan on a frustration about not getting the ball in the post more at the end: “I was pleased with our balance offensively. I thought we had really good inside-outside action. I would have liked to have utilized Vernon a lot more in the second half, but it was hard because he was in foul trouble. Once we got into overtime and the end of regulation, because of his free throw situation, we had to play Patric.”
Donovan on if Parsons and Walker were not in a groove: “The one thing you have to do in order to be a really good team is you have to have balance. In the BYU game, they sold out on Vernon Macklin on every post catch. They sold out on him. So he had to be a post passer. This was a game where they decided to take our perimeter away. You got to throw the ball to Vernon and you got to let him score. He did a heck of a job tonight when we needed to throw the ball to him.”