As they jogged off the floor of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the final time as Gators, Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons glanced at one another and had a difficult time containing a serious case of the giggles.
As each stopped to high-5 fans gathered in the stands just above the UF lockerroom, the ever-widening smiles never left their faces and the realization seemed to seep in: their team, their beloved Gators were Southeastern Conference champions for just the fifth time in the 92-year history of the program.
And really, who could blame them? As far as finales go, theirs was as good as it gets… all the way down to human victory cigar Adam Allen getting to dribble out the clock in his first action since 2007-08 when he was a freshman with two healthy knees.
Behind the most brilliant 20 minutes of basketball No. 14 Florida has played all year, the Gators turned a tied game at the half into a 78-51 dismantling of West champ Alabama on Tuesday night in front of a rowdy crowd of 12,225. And the seniors were ready to celebrate.
“This is what we’ve worked for all year,” said Tyus, who scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds. “Winning the SEC is always the first thing we talk about. To get it done is a really good feeling.”
How they got it done was pretty darn spectacular.
After opening the contest just 3-of-19, UF (23-6, 12-3 in the SEC) finished the night making 26 of its final 37 shots – an eye-popping 70.3-percent – and beat the Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-4) at their own games.
To Donovan, whose team topped that of his protégé, Anthony Grant, the night was exhausting in numerous ways.
“I’m emotionally drained,” Donovan said. “(We were) playing for an SEC championship, and it was like coaching against my son. But how it went couldn’t have been scripted any better.”
There also might not be any way UF (or anyone for that matter) could have performed any better.
Entering the contest, Alabama had not been outscored in the paint all season and averaged a plus-12.8 there against opponents. But the Gators outdid the Tide, 38-36.
Alabama came into the game ranked fourth nationally (and first by a wide margin in the SEC) averaging 9.6 steals-a-game. Individually, five Crimson Tide players were ranked in the top-10 in the league in thefts. But the Gators outdid the Tide, 9-5, allowing no UA player to swipe more than one.
Alabama topped the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 58.2 points-a-game. But the Gator offense outdid the Tide defense, surpassing that average on a three-pointer by Erving Walker with 6:46 to play.
“They played like champs,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant conceded. “They were successful doing to us what we try to do to others.”
The 27-point margin of deficit was the widest the Crimson Tide had been defeated by this year, and there is credit to go all around.
Parsons scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed a game-best 11 rebounds to give him his seventh double-double of the season. Macklin added 19 points of his own to go along with six rebounds and two assists, while sophomore shooting guard Kenny Boynton scored 14 points (making 4-of-8 three-pointers in the process), dished out six assists and grabbed a pair of steals.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country at driving, kicking out and finding the open guy,” Grant said. “They got things going on the inside and outside in the second half, and when they can do that, they’re tough to defend.”
And now, after finishing 14-3 at home this year, they’re SEC champs.
“This is unbelievable,” Parsons said. “To have it all come together like that on Senior Night against a team as good as Alabama… I can’t even really describe it.”
*Class of 2012 point guard Braxton Ogbueze was scheduled to be in attendance at the Alabama game and is considered a heavy Gator lean at this point.
*Alabama had one three-pointer on the night, the lowest total UF has given up in a game all season.
*Junior point guard Erving Walker tied a season high with seven assists. He is now one shy of 350 for his career.
Gator Players of the Game: Seniors Chandler Parsons (season high 19 points, game-high 11 rebounds, 3 assists), Vernon Macklin (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) and Alex Tyus (12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot) paved the way for UF to run away with the game in the second half (with a little help from Kenny Boynton).
Opposing Player of the Game: Freshman guard Trevor Releford scored a team-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He added a team-high 4 assists to go along with 3 rebounds.
Play/sequence of the Game: With 9:04 remaining in the contest, Erving Walker threw an alley-oop from behind the three-point line that Macklin threw down with violent force to give UF a 56-42 lead.
Stats of the Game: Florida outscored Alabama, 38-36, in the paint. That marked the first time this season the Crimson Tide had lost that statistical battle. Alabama entered the contest outscoring foes by 12.8 ppg in the paint.
Next Up: The Gators will visit SEC East runner-up Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-6) on Saturday at 6 p.m.