Florida Gators basketball (5-0) entered the 2009 Legends Classic looking to make a name for themselves after finishing the past two seasons with invites to the NIT. The Gators accomplished their goal, taking down the No. 2/2 Michigan State Spartans (4-1) 77-74 in Atlantic City, NJ.
Five Florida players scored in double digits as junior forward Chandler Parsons led the team with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Classmate F Alex Tyus and redshirt junior transfer center Vernon Macklin recorded a team-high five boards each while sophomore point guard Erving Walker led the way with seven assists. Walker nailed a long-range go-ahead three-pointer with 1:56 left as the Gators hung on for the win. Florida also went 22-of-25 from the free throw line and combined for a season-high 11 steals in the contest.
The Gators forced 22 turnovers in the game, continuing their defensive dominance that has become a theme throughout the first five games of the 2009 season. The Spartans had multiple chances to tie the game in the waning minutes, including two missed three-point attempts by Durrell Summers in the final minute.
“I’m just so happy these guys could experience a night like tonight against a terrific team,” Gators head coach Billy Donovan said. “I think we found out a lot more about us. We have a chance to really improve and grow from this. The guys in the locker rooms are the ones who really did all the work. At this point, I think that these guys have put the work in. You feel like there’s a commitment and a focus that they’re doing that. I think that was something that was really missing from our team the last two years, really understanding what it was about maturity-wise.” Walker agreed. “We just wanted to prove to people we could be mentioned in the same breath as them,” he said.
Florida advances to the championship game of the Legends Classic and will face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at 8 p.m.