Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
ORLANDO – Outside the Gators’ locker room here Wednesday night at the sparkling new Amway Arena, a dejected Chandler Parsons fielded questions he never wanted to be asked.
Parsons was visibly unhappy as Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley walked by and gave him a pat on the head. The last thing Parsons wanted was to leave his hometown – he grew up in nearby Casselberry – with a loss to UCF and first-year coach Donnie Jones, a longtime Gators assistant under Billy Donovan.
As Parsons discussed Florida’s 57-54 loss to the Knights and his shooting struggles – the senior forward went 1-for-9 from the floor and missed his six free throws – a large group of family and friends waited nearby to cheer him up.
Reality – UF’s first loss in school history to UCF after nine consecutive wins over the Knights – had started to settle in for Parsons and his teammates.
“Obviously I didn’t want it to go this way,’’ said Parsons, who had to endure taunting from the UCF student section after shooting an air ball on a free throw in the first half. “I wanted to come home and have a great game, shoot well. I’m extremely disappointed in the way I played and in the way our team played.’’
While the No. 16-ranked Gators’ loss to the Knights was tough to swallow for those in the announced crowd of 13,909 dressed in orange and blue, it also featured some bittersweet elements because of the well-respected Jones, who still has many close friends at UF.
Jones served on Donovan’s staff for 11 years in Gainesville, working his way up to associate head coach as Florida won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He took his turn cutting down the nets on the same ladder as Donovan.
Fast forward to Wednesday night after UCF’s biggest win in school history – the Knights had never beaten a team ranked as high as Florida – and reality had not quite set in for Jones. In his first six games as UCF’s coach, he is undefeated and already has beaten UF and USF.
“It’s kind of surreal that this happened,’’ Jones said. “I’m proud of our team. We beat a good basketball team – the Florida Gators – and Billy’s a great coach. It’s a great victory. I’m just trying to stay humble with it.’’
Jones was appreciative that Donovan agreed to even play the game, marking the first time UCF has played in downtown Orlando in 20 years. The Florida Citrus Sports Shootout will go down in history as the first college basketball game at the Orlando Magic’s arena, but Jones and Donovan will share their memories in time for much different reasons.
“He’s been a great supporter,’’ Jones said of his former boss. “He’s obviously a mentor and I’m sure I’ll be calling him later – maybe not tonight – but we’ll talk in the next couple of days.’’
Jones said his emotions bubbled as the two former colleagues met at midcourt following the game. According to Jones, Donovan told him three times how proud he was of him and that UCF deserved to win the game.
“You almost feel guilty that you won,’’ Jones said. “He about made me cry.’’
They would have been tears of joy. While Donovan was pleased for his friend, he didn’t take the loss lightly.
Donovan spent much of his postgame press conference talking about the Gators’ offensive woes and a need to develop more chemistry.
Florida shot 42.0 percent (21 of 50), but only 2 of 13 from three-point range and 10 of 18 from the free-throw line. Parsons (two points, six rebounds, five assists) and Alex Tyus (0 points, five rebounds) combined to hit 1 of 14 shots.
The Gators stayed close behind center Vernon Macklin’s season-high 20 points and eight rebounds. Macklin made 10 of 11 shots from the floor, but the rest of the team shot only 28 percent (11 of 39).
“We won with our defense,’’ Jones said.
Marcus Jordan’s 18 points also helped as UCF beat an SEC team for only the second time in school history.
Before Donovan boarded the team bus for the two-hour drive back to Gainesville after the game, he gave one last verbal slap on the back to his former pupil.
“I’m very proud of Donnie,’’ Donovan said. “They were clearly the better team than we were today. If we had won this game, it would have been a steal and I would have felt bad for Donnie. I would have felt awful for him. I would have given him the win.’’
Donovan didn’t have to. Jones and the Knights earned this one, making the Gators’ trip to Orlando memorable but for reasons they didn’t expect.
“They are a really good team. I think they will have a great year,’’ said Parsons before walking over to his parents and friends. “We definitely didn’t underestimate them. We knew they were going to be hyped to play in the arena, their home city.
“Our offense just really killed us.’