Nassim Slilam screamed encouragement to his teammates and Sekou Bangoura Jr. slammed his fist into the air in celebration as the fifth-seeded No. 17 Florida Gators defeated the fourth-seeded No. 19 Mississippi State Bulldogs 4-2 in the SEC Tournament tennis quarterfinals.
Slilam was the star for Florida, earning the clinching point for the Gators in his 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 roller coaster of a match against MSU’s James Chaudry.
Throughout the match, he entertained the crowd and won their support with his on-court celebrations. After going up 2-0 in the deciding set, Slilam beckoned to the crowd, and they answered.
After that, the “Let’s Go Gators” chant rained down on the court for the rest of the match. It helped Florida pull through to advance to the next round.
“I would like to thank the people in the crowd who came, because it really made a difference,” head coach Andy Jackson said. “Against Tennessee or Ole Miss tomorrow, I hope as many people come because we are going to have a chance against those teams.”
Slilam wasn’t the only Gator revved up for the quarterfinals. The usually stoic Sekou Bangoura Jr. received some much needed advice from a teammate to pump him up en route to his straight-set victory.
“Before when I was talking to Alex [Lacroix], he was just saying that you have to look at it like you are out here having fun,” Bangoura said. “I needed that reminder. I let everything happen and my emotions came out a little more.”
The ability to stay loose was important for the Gators against MSU, and perhaps something they lacked in their close matches during the regular season.
In 2011, the Gators were 4-6 in one point decisions. Even though the remaining matches are not played out in Southeastern Conference tournament play, the Bulldogs were a tough out for UF.
“It puts some demons to bay a little bit for us,” Jackson said. “We wouldn’t trade that one for any other ones that we lost earlier in the year.”
Often in tight matches, the Gators would have to depend on their five and six players for a victory. Spencer Newman was one of those Gators. In only his second SEC tournament match, he came through in a monumental way.
With his 6-4, 6-3 victory over Zach White, the freshman was the first Gator off the court and helped put UF up an early 2-0. Coming into the match, Jackson expected Newman’s performance to be crucial.
“We kind of felt like the key matches were going to be the doubles and one and six,” Jackson said. “We felt those were the ones we thought we had advantages in. At six, [Newman] played a good match and that is huge.”
The 4-5-6 players for the Gators will most certainly be a factor in the semifinals. UF faces the winner of No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers and No. 31 Ole Miss Rebels Saturday at 2 p.m. at Linder Stadium.
The Gators lost to Ole Miss and Tennessee in the regular season, so either will be a tough matchup moving forward.
Jackson knows a potential matchup with the Volunteers will be a good test.
“Tennessee is a finalist in the NCAA’s back-to-back and SEC champions,” Jackson said. “They murdered us at Tennessee, so we would like to do a little better than that.”
1 – *#29 Bangoura/Lacroix (UF) def. #58 Coupland/Ilyushin (MSU) 8-2 (:41)
2 – Federhofer/Slilam (UF) led #33 Cant/Stropp (MSU) 5-3 (DNF)
3 – Butz/van Overbeek (UF) def. Chaudry/White (MSU) 8-2 (:36)
Order of finish: 3-1
1 – #61 Artem Ilyushin (MSU) led #8 Alexandre Lacroix (UF) 2-6, 6-2, 5-4 (DNF)
2 – #44 Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) def. #57 George Coupland (MSU) 6-3, 6-4 (1:38)
3 – *#93 Nassim Slilam (UF) def. James Chaudry (MSU) 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 (2:15)
4 – #91 Malte Stropp (MSU) def. Bob van Overbeek (UF) 7-6(4), 6-1 (2:10)
5 – #82 Louis Cant (MSU) def. Billy Federhofer (UF) 6-3, 6-2 (1:26)
6 – Spencer Newman (UF) def. Zach White (MSU) 6-4, 6-3 (1:26)
Order of finish: 5-6-2-4-3
*Clinched doubles point/match victory
Gator Country reporter Adam Pincus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at adamDpincus.