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Sunday March 18, 2012Gators Throttle Norfolk State, Advance To Sweet 16

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

OMAHA, Neb. -- It was less than two weeks ago that the following question was put to Florida coach Billy Donovan and a couple members of his basketball team during a media session heading into the Southeastern Conference Tournament. 


Do you get the sense that your season is slipping away? 


Donovan didn't think so then. Probably doesn't think so now, either. 


The 2011-12 season, in fact, is looking pretty sweet. 


As in Sweet 16. 


Junior guard Kenny Boynton led five UF players into double figures, scoring 20 points, grabbing a career-high eight rebounds and doing his part for a defense that suffocated surprising 15th-seeded Norfolk State in a wire-to-wire a 84-50 mutilation in the second-round game of a West Region showdown that was over barely after it started. 


Runs of 25-zip in the first half will do that. 


Senior point guard Erving Walker scored 15 points, freshman guard Bradley Beal had 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists and junior forward Erik Murphy had 10 points and eight rebounds. UF hit 52.8 percent for the game, but just as key was holding Norfolk, which ran circles around No. 2-seed and second-ranked Missouri in an epic upset Friday, to just 27.3 percent overall and a measly 16.7 from 3-point range. 


For the Spartans, it was quite a contrast from the plus-50 shooting sprees they hung on Mizzou less than 48 hours earlier. 


But as one person said in Florida’s celebrating locker room afterward, “Cinderella isn’t a very good fairy tale, anyway.”  


With the win, the seventh-seeded and 25th-ranked Gators (25-10) advanced to their second straight Sweet 16, drawing a matchup with No. 3 seed and 11th-ranked Marquette (27-7) in the regional semifinals Thursday night at America West Arena in Phoenix. 


“What do I think about it?” sophomore said Patric Young queried after being asked about the Sweet 16. “It’s not far enough.” 


Make that two blowouts by a combined 59 points (UF beat 10-seed Virginia by 25 Friday). Not bad for a team that lost four of its last five games before learning of its NCAA fate last weekend. 


“I think we have a lot more things we’re capable of doing,” Beal said. 


The Gators did everything they set out to do against Norfolk State (26-10). The objectives going in were to harass 6-foot-10, 240-pound center Kyle O’Quinn, who scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Missouri, with double-teams, but also be in good enough defensive position to recover and prevent the Spartans from having another 3-point barrage like the 10-for-19 night they rained at the Tigers’ expense.


Results: O’Quinn finished with four points on 1-for-9 shooting and grabbed three rebounds; and the Spartans went 4-for-24 from the arc. 


“Hats off to Florida. They're a very, very good basketball team,” said Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans, who Friday became one of six coaches in NCAA history to lead a 15th-seeded team to a tournament victory. “They came out and executed well. They prevented us from doing things we wanted to do.”


An old-fashion 3-point play by Norfolk’s Rodney McCauley actually had the Spartans up 6-4 nearly four minutes into the game. Then Boynton, struggling of late with his shot, buried a 3-pointer to give the Gators a 7-6 edge at the 16:12 mark. 


The next Spartans points came at 9:30 of the half. By then, the Gators had scored 25 unanswered, including additional treys from Beal, two from Murphy and another from Walker to take a 28-6 lead. 


“I’d never been part of anything like that before,” Walker said. 


For what it’s worth (not much), Norfolk State twice cut the margin to 22, but backup guard Mike Rosario (12 points, 5-for-7 from the floor) drained a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer and sent the teams to the locker room with the Gators up 47-19 and fans around the nation wondering when TNT was going to switch to a competitive game. 


“They could have come out and played us like they did Missouri, if we didn’t match their intensity,” Boynton said. “But we matched it and that was the biggest thing.” 


The Florida coaches (specifically assistant Matt McCall, who as assigned the Norfolk scout last week when the brackets were released) had a plan. It was presented, deployed and executed to perfection. 


“It was a great win,” said Donovan, who improved his career NCAA record to 27-9, a winning percentage of .750 that ranks third among the nation’s active coaches. “I was proud of the effort these guys put in over the last 24 hours to get prepared to play.”


They’ll have longer than that to get ready for Marquette and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. 


“I don’t really know much about them,” backup guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “But I do know we’re probably playing our best basketball of the season.”


And if this is a season that’s slipping, let the slide continue. 



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