Florida had four chances to win one game and clinch an NCAA bid, but were 0-4 in those games, finishing with tonight's 75-69 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Quarterfinals. UF will have to sweat out Selection Sunday while Miss State gets a chance to steal the SEC's fourth and possibly final NCAA invite.
The Gators (21-12) could not defend the 3-point line or score inside early as the Bulldogs (22-10) did everything right in the first half. Miss State led by as much as 19 before UF slowly came back, shrinking the lead to three points with 27 seconds left. However, the moment that will stick out to most UF fans came 20 seconds earlier, when UF was down by four.
Chandler Parsons pulled down one of his seven rebounds to start a fast break for the Gators. Wide open in the right wing corner was Dan Werner. But like a bad wide receiver, Werner ran before he caught the outlet pass, and the ball sailed through his hands and out of bounds. Werner finished with 3 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. As much has he gets the scorn of Florida fans, it was Billy Donovan's mistake to again have Werner in during an important part of the game. Werner has demonstrated he cannot be trusted and can't handle the ball late. Donovan should get as much blame as Werner.
One play does not make a game and if UF does not make the tournament, they can point to the 7 of 22 shooting performance by Florida's forwards. Parsons eventually got to double figures with 10 points, but Miss State destroyed Werner (1-5 shooting), but especially Alex Tyus (5pts, 2-5 shooting) and Vernon Macklin (3pts, 1-3 shooting). Tyus was especially bad, chucking jumpers and getting stripped down low. This was in contrast to Jarvis Varnado (15pts, 4reb, 4blk), Kodi Augustus (10pts) and Romero Osby (8pts). Miss State also shot 10 of 20 from 3-point range, with all three starting guards in double figures.
Kenny Boynton (23pts, 8-16 shooting) and Erving Walker (19pts, 6-12 shooting) worked very hard to get their numbers. Boynton and Walker were also the only players willing to challenge Miss State's inside guys with high risk/high reward drives to the basket.
The most disappointing thing about tonight's game was that once again, Florida got outplayed in a must win game. Losing to a more talented team like Kentucky is one thing, but Miss State is no better or worse than the Gators. The Bulldogs hot start combined with UF's pillow soft inside game dug a hole too deep for Florida to recover from. But there is nothing that can be done now. The Gators have done this to themselves for the third consecutive season. All they can do is hope and pray that the Selection Committee has mercy on a team that has lost 4 of their last 5 games and 6 of their last 10.