With 5:16 left in the first half of Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup between the Florida Gators and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the Cinderella Eagles led the Gators 24-14. The nation was on its feet cheering on the little team that could, the first 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet Sixteen. We were all witnessing history and it was getting even better. Those of us in orange and blue land were shell shocked, wondering if this was all really happening. And just like that it wasn’t and order was restored.
For the first 15 minutes, the Eagles controlled the game as the Gators seemed to unravel before our very eyes. The next 25 minutes would be an entirely different story. Over the final five minutes of the first half and the entire second half, Florida would outscore Florida Gulf Coast 48-26 on route to a 62-50 Gators’ victory and a third-straight Elite Eight appearance. The Eagles performance in the 2013 NCAA Tournament was admirable, but it all came crashing to an end when, for 25 minutes, the Gators showed the world what a talent gap truly is.
From time to time, games like this come down to numbers. Realistically, this one came down to the aforementioned talent, but there were numbers to factor in as well. The Eagles out-shot the Gators to the tune of 45.5% to 38.6%. That was the only statistic Florida Gulf Coast would win that mattered.
20 is another important one. The Eagles connected on 20 of their field-goal attempts. They would also commit 20 turnovers. When those numbers match, there’s a better than good chance you’ll end up on the losing side of things. The Gators’ ratio? 22-to-10.
The Eagles had less rebounds, assists and steals and nearly double the personal fouls. They shot better from behind the three-point line, but also had 12 less attempts at the charity stripe. Those 12 more attempts were critical as the Gators made eight of them. Eight more made free throws and a 12-point margin of victory; there’s a link there.
When all nearly looking lost in the first half, Billy Donovan altered his strategy. He leaned on Michael Frazier II and Casey Prather to provide sparks. Frazier was only on the court for 13 minutes, but had two critical threes as the Gators mounted their comeback. And then there was the dunk pictured above from Prather, who would end with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting. Sometimes a picture really is worth a million words.
We could beat the Cinderella angle to death, and we probably should with how much we heard about it over the past week, but we won’t. We’ll let Florida Gulf Coast slump off into the night. They should be proud of what they accomplished this season, but David doesn’t always slay Goliath. No, David is going home and Goliath has a date with a pack of nasty wolverines. Florida vs. Michigan, 2:20 PM, Sunday.