For the first time in school history, the Gators are headed to the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row. Florida survived a furious second half rally from the Golden Gophers to hold on to a 78-64 win Sunday night in Austin.
The unquestioned star for the Gators was Mike Rosario, who after being benched in the second half against Northwestern State, came out and racked up a Florida career-high 25 points.
Mike Rosario was emotional when speaking about his big night during the post game. “The one thing that coach talked to me before I transferred here, he said you’re putting yourself in big moments and big games, and just being in this big situation like that. I really took full advantage of it tonight and I told myself, if I’m open, I’m going to knock down the shot. And I commend Scotty for finding me the whole game, basically. I just told myself, I can’t let my guys down.”
The Gators came out on fire in the first half with intensity on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Erik Murphy had 15 points and Mike Rosario chipped in 17 of his own to give the Gators their highest first half scoring output of the year. Florida seemed to be on their way to a comfortable win, heading into the locker room up 48-27 at the break.
But Florida struggled early on in the second half; as Minnesota chipped their way into the Gators lead making it a single digit game with 12 minutes left. Minnesota guard Andre Hollins (25 points) couldn’t miss and Erik Murphy found himself with four early fouls as many Gator fans began to have nightmares of second half collapses against Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ole Miss.
But not this time, not on the biggest stage yet for this Gator basketball team. Stuck on the bench with four fouls, senior Erik Murphy huddled his team midway through the second half, “I just gathered the guys and said, we just got to get the job done right now. We got to come together, we got to play possession by possession and just do our best to eliminate easy things for them and play well on offense and just get easy shots for us.”
Behind a series of beautiful plays by Scottie Wilbekin and some additional scoring by Mike Rosario, the Gators took a bite back at the surging Gophers as the two teammates hit back-to-back threes. The Gators began to lock down on defense once more and found ways to manufacture points in a multitude of ways.
“The message that coach gave us and gave me personally is, you got to go out there and compete. And that’s the one thing that my teammates understand and especially down in the stretch. In the second half there, I thought that we dug deep,” Mike Rosario said about the team’s ability to maintain their lead late in the game.
Gator fans can’t help but smile to finally see this Florida team hold off another late game rally from an opponent. The Gators dug down deep and found the will power to lock the game down when they needed to.
The Gators will march on to the Sweet Sixteen where they will face off against Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast in Arlington on Friday night. The Gators are certain to face a hostile crowd in Arlington, as everyone always loves a Cinderella. Billy Donovan spoke about the opportunity ahead of his Florida team as they turn their eyes ahead, “I am really proud of our kids. This is obviously a long journey for everybody that is involved with this tournament. It started probably September 1st with preseason and to get to this point, we are very excited. We are fortunate and looking forward to next weekend.”