The last time Vernon Macklin threw down a reverse jam it was in front of maybe 150 people in a high school game. Against Mississippi State Saturday afternoon, his reverse brought a crowd of 11,660 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to their feet.
The highlight play of Florida’s 69-62 win over Mississippi State, Macklin’s jam figures to be a top play on Sports Center.
The spectacular dunk was the signature play of a 10-1 Florida run that saw the Gators stretch their lead from 45-44 to 55-45 with 8:08 remaining in the first half. The dunk was made possible by Chandler Parsons, who drove into the paint, saw Macklin on a curl and delivered the pass down low. Macklin caught the ball with his back to the basket, and, instead of turning and facing up, took the ball to the basket backwards.
“It felt really good,” Macklin said. “It’s the only way I could dunk it, so I just did it backwards.”
And as for SportsCenter?
“Yeah, I hope so,” Macklin said.
It was a career day for Macklin at Florida, in which he scored 20 points and added six rebounds and a block. And it came against the second-leading shot-blocker in the country, Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado, who just happens to be the leading shot blocker in NCAA basketball history.
Of his 20 points, 14 came in the second half and the first 10 were also Florida’s first 10 points of the second half. Macklin was an offensive clinic in the paint going against a tough defender, but Florida coach Billy Donovan said Macklin also turned in a great defensive job on Varnado.
“Vernon really played well. People are gonna look at his 20 points and his six rebounds, but I thought he did a good job defensively on Varnado, their center. Six-for-16 for him. He got his 16 points, but it took a lot of shots to do it.”
In the past 13 games, power forward Alex Tyus has been the go-to guy in the paint for hte Gators but Saturday, Tyus couldn’t get a shot to drop (3-12 from the field). Compounding the issue was an off night from both Erving Walker (2-14 from the field; 1-8 on threes) and Kenny Boynton (2-9 from the field; 0-5 on threes). With the three leading scorers on the season struggling, that left the scoring load to Chandler Parsons and Macklin.
Tyus, who had his streak of 13 straight games in double figures snapped, said that he had been waiting for Macklin to have a breakout game.
“It was great,” Tyus said. “When our guys, like me, Kenny and Erving don’t do well as far as scoring, Vernon stepped up. He helped us out a lot and got us the win.”
Parsons, who shared the scoring load (18 points) and led the Gators in rebounding (12) agreed completely.
“It was just the whole mindset of him doing what he can do,” Parsons said. “We’re gonna have to have him like that all year long for us to be good.”
The game helped to overturn the idea that Florida couldn’t win a game by scoring in the paint. More than that, it helped Macklin’s confidence.
“It changed a lot,” Macklin said. “A lot of teams know we’re not gonna be like we was last year, but we’ve got a strong presence inside with me, Alex, Dan and Murphy.”
A lot of teams shy away from Varnado, who blocked nine shots in his last outing. Florida’s strategy was take the ball straight at the big guy and Macklin made it work.
“Don’t be scared to go in there and make the tough shots,” Macklin said. “They’re gonna make you take the tough shots, but you just have to keep going at them.”
The reverse jam might have surprised the 11,660 at the O-Dome who saw the game, but not Macklin. He knows he can make shots like that and feels it’s time for him to start making his offensive presence known.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Macklin said. “I just gotta do this every single game.”