NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida had good looks at the basket, but the shots didn’t fall. There is no riddle or mystery to be solved when dissecting the final outcome. Those past late-game failures played no role Sunday and they won’t in the future.
That was the predominant theme inside the Gators’ locker room following Sunday’s 66-63 loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament championship game.
The Gators were in the game until the final shot, a 3-pointer by Kenny Boynton that bounced off the rim and ignited an Ole Miss celebration.
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Seconds earlier, trailing 65-63, Florida coach Billy Donovan called a timeout with 22.8 seconds left to design a potential go-ahead or game-tying score. The Gators went inside to senior forward Erik Murphy and his short jump hook missed.
“I spotted up and just tried to make a good move and it just didn’t fall,” Murphy said.
And then, after Murphy Holloway made one of two free throws for a three-point Ole Miss advantage, Scottie Wilbekin was fouled with 4.2 seconds left. He missed the first free throw and then missed the second one intentionally.
The ball bounced out to Boynton, who fired a 3-pointer that could have tied the game and forced overtime.
“I thought it was going in,” freshman guard Michael Frazier said.
Considering the circumstances, Boynton got a good shot off in the frantic moment.
“I kind of rushed it. I was trying to make sure I was behind the 3-point line, so I was kind of unbalanced on the shot,” he said. “The designed play was something similar to that.”
So while the outcome was the same as close losses against Arizona, Missouri and Kentucky, the Gators left Bridgestone Arena knowing another late-game loss wasn’t a result of a rash of turnovers or bad decision-making in the clutch.
The shots were there, they just didn’t go in.
“To me, we executed,” Donovan said. “The ball didn’t go in the basket. That’s part of the game. There’s nothing I can do as a coach or the players can work on it, but I don’t look at our guys — did Erik Murphy look scared to shoot the ball today? He went up there strong.
“The people trying to create this drama like our guys have lost confidence — our guys haven’t lost confidence at all. They dug themselves a hole with our lack of defense. Did we execute well the last minute of second half, did we fight and battle and scratch? Yes.”
As for any carryover effect heading into Friday’s first-round NCAA tournament game against Northwestern State, the Gators don’t see that happening.
“I think as a team, our confidence is high,” said Boynton, who finished with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting Sunday. “We know what we need to get better at. We’re going to work. I think Coach is going to do a great job at getting us prepared for whatever team we play.”
Senior guard Mike Rosario shared Boynton’s sentiment.
Rosario led the Gators on Sunday with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds. While outsiders may say otherwise, Rosario doesn’t see a team that gets tight late in games.
“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. It’s just — we got to get back in the gym, you know, with Coach and go through those situations again,” Rosario said. “We’ve been going through those situations a week before this tournament, you know, going with close — being down two in practice, being up 15 in practice, and just working through those situations, game situations, late-game situations.
“It’s something we got to keep working at. I feel like we keep doing that, we’re going to prepare ourselves for the tournament.”
Murphy may have summed it up best.
“If we play D hard, we don’t have to worry about our offense that much,” he said. “I think we scored enough and played well enough on offense, we just didn’t play well enough on defense.”