MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Florida senior center Patric Young carried the NCAA South Regional championship trophy into the post-game press conference and sat it down on the table. A few moments earlier, he had scaled a ladder to cut down the nets at FedExForum after the top-seeded Gators had defeated 11th-seeded Dayton, 62-52, Saturday night to earn a berth in the Final Four.
In many ways, it was a longer journey than that. This was Florida’s fourth straight trip to the Elite Eight, but the first to end in victory, the first to end without regrets.
“Going up that ladder, I was thinking about how I want to do this again,” said Young, who scored 12 points with six rebounds, four blocks and two steals. “There’s more hunger to keep going.”
And Florida (36-2) has kept it going all season, having now won 30 consecutive games.
“It’s hard to believe what these guys have done,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who is going to his fourth Final Four with the Gators and won his 450th game at Florida in 18 seasons. “These guys, for whatever reason, have been able to put things behind them.”
On Saturday, it was a plucky Dayton Flyers team that never quit but also never got closer than eight points in the second half.
Gators senior guard Scottie Wilbekin led all scorers with 23 points, tying his career high. Wilbekin, who was voted the South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, hit three of five 3-pointers and scored eight of Florida’s 21 points at the free-throw line.
“I’m happy about the award,” Wilbekin said, his championship cap turned backward. “But that’s nothing compared to winning. Winning just feels so good.”
The Gators controlled the paint, outscoring Dayton, 24-18 inside, and outrebounded the Flyers, 37-26. Florida, however, only shot 37.5 percent (19-for-48), while Dayton shot 39.6 percent (19-for-48).
“We didn’t win pretty tonight,” Donovan said. “We got to the free-throw line and we offensive-rebounded (12-5 edge).”
The Flyers wanted to drive the lane, but as forward Dyshawn Pierre, who had 18 points, said, “If you drove you had to think pass because Patric Young, with his big old body, was there.”
Dayton (26-11) reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 1984.
“They created a brand of basketball the University of Dayton hasn’t had in 30 years,” Flyers coach Archie Miller said.
Florida led, 38-24, at halftime, closing on a 19-3 run that took the Gators from down two points at 21-19 with 6:28 to play, to solid command of the game. The half ended with Wilbekin holding the ball for the last shot, and then off the dribble rising and hitting a straight-way 3-pointer over a Dayton defender.
“It was a big shot because it gave us a bigger lead,” Wilbekin said. “But I don’t think it demoralized them. They came out in the second half and hit two 3s back-to-back.”
Those treys allowed the Flyers to cut the lead to 38-30 at the 18:52 mark; Donovan called a quick timeout. Florida then went on a 15-6 run to hike its lead to 53-36 at 11:25.
Dayton made one last charge as Pierre scored nine straight for his team and got the Flyers to within 58-50 with 3:55 to play.
“Dyshawn, in our darkest and gloomiest moment, got us going,” Miller said.
But the Flyers never drew closer.
“It’s tough (now) because this was such a special run,” said Flyers forward Devin Oliver, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
Florida guard Michael Frazier II added 10 points and forward Dorian Finney-Smith pulled down nine rebounds to go with five points. Forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather each had seven rebounds, with four and six points, respectively.
Donovan brushed aside the meaning of another “Final Four,” and the significance of that big trophy next to him on the table.
“I’ve always looked at (it) as a six-game tournament,” Donovan said. “That’s what it is. We have nice names — Elite Eight and Sweet 16 and Final Four. But at the end of the day, you want to keep playing.”
NOTES: This was Dayton’s third Elite Eight appearance and its first since 1984. … Florida backup PG Kasey Hill became the fourth
- Grizzlies add Justin Bean, Jacob Gilyard to training camp roster
- Knicks’ Jalen Brunson proposes to girlfriend Ali Marks at high school
- Knicks president Leon Rose won’t interfere in Tom Thibodeau’s rotation
- Trail Blazers sign five-year NBA veteran Wes Iwundu
- Hornets coach Steve Clifford impressed by LaMelo Ball
Main Page6 days ago
Bucks sign guard Iverson Molinar to one-year, $1.02 million deal
Indiana2 weeks ago
Indiana online sports betting handle reaches US$238m for August
NBA4 days ago
Jayson Tatum recalls smashing Michael Jordan’s wine glass at dinner
Main Page1 week ago
NBA League Pass for Australians now 48% cheaper in 2022