Florida Gators Denies Norfolk State’s Hopes For An Upset
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — It was fun while it lasted for Norfolk State.
Florida gave the 15th-seeded Spartans no hope of pulling another bracket-shaking upset in the NCAA tournament, taking control of Sunday’s game early and coasting to an 84-50 victory.
Kenny Boynton scored 20 points and the Gators, boosted by a 25-0 run, reached the regional semifinals for the second straight year.
Norfolk State, coming off its 86-84 upset of No. 2 seed Missouri on Friday, was trying to become the first 15 seed to reach the round of 16.
Florida put a quick end to that idea, making five 3-pointers during its big burst that made it 29-6 midway through the first half.
“They have a coach who has won two national championships. Clearly it was my first time and our team’s first time,” Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. “If we get back to this point we will know how to handle it and how to get to the next step.”
The seventh-seeded Gators (25-10) made it to the regional semifinals for the sixth time in 12 NCAA tournament appearances under coach Billy Donovan. They will play No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday in Phoenix after their second straight runaway win.
Florida was 4 for 23 from beyond the arc in its tourney opener, but still managed to beat Virginia 71-45. It rediscovered its shooting touch early against Norfolk State (26-10), making five of its first eight 3-point attempts and 10 of 28 for the game.
Erving Walker finished with 15 points for the Gators. Bradley Beal scored 14, Mike Rosario had 12 and Erik Murphy 10.
The resounding loss put a damper on a fun couple of days for Norfolk State center Kyle O’Quinn, who got the celebrity treatment after collecting 26 points and 14 rebounds against Missouri.
“I think we came in with a good game plan, and I think Florida executed,” Evans said. “They were physical with us, and they tried to take Kyle away. They double-teamed him and forced others to make shots. We didn’t make our shots.”
O’Quinn was a walking quote machine in the 24 hours after the shocking win over Missouri. He talked about how the upset even blew up his own bracket, how he watched the cheerleaders during breaks in the action and how he was more concerned with having fun than playing basketball in high school.
He wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the court against Florida. He missed eight of nine shots and finished with four points — his lowest output since he scored two points in a 32-point December loss at Illinois State. His only field goal was a first-half dunk, and he played only 23 minutes after logging 37 against Missouri.
“Obviously, if you look at where we came from, this is a big step,” O’Quinn said. “For the program, for the seniors, for everybody, our whole university. So for everybody to witness that step toward we took as a university, you’ve got to be proud.
“We were not satisfied with losing but we knew coming in, you either win a national championship or you lose. That’s the nature of the game,” he said.
The Spartans, who shot 54 percent and made 10 of 19 3-pointers against Missouri, shot 27 percent and were 4 of 24 on 3s against the Gators.
Boynton, who had made just 4 of his previous 21 3s, hit from long distance to start Florida’s decisive run.
The big surge featured the frenetic temp that Florida enjoys. The Spartans missed 10 shots in a row, and each time the smaller Gators got the rebound, they pushed the ball quickly up the floor.
Erik Murphy hit back-to-back 3s, Bradley made one and Beal tipped in Scottie Wilbekin’s missed 3 before Norfolk State ended a field-goal drought that lasted more than 7 minutes.
Norfolk State got into the tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. They carried an eight-game winning streak into the matchup with Florida and came into the arena exuding confidence — and played with it the first few minutes.
O’Quinn, who took only 30 3-pointers for the season, opened the game by launching one from above the top of the key. He missed, then went back on defense and blocked Patric Young’s first shot.
Chris McEachin hit a 3, and Rodney McCauley swooped in to put back a miss, got fouled and made the free throw, and Norfolk State was up 6-4.
Norfolk State’s small but loud cheering section loved it. Same for its yellow-shirted pep band.
Then came Florida’s game-breaking 25-0 run, and the Gators were on their way to improving to 22-0 all-time against MEAC opponents.
The Spartans’ next, and last, highlight came nine minutes later on a backboard-shaking dunk by O’Quinn. Problem was, that was the big guy’s first points of the game, and it only cut Florida’s lead to 33-13.
If Norfolk State’s spirit was broken, the same couldn’t be said about its fans. They kept chanting “DEE-FENSE, DEE-FENSE” even as the Spartans fell behind by 31 points in the second half.
The Spartans received a standing ovation as they walked off the court after the game.
“Making it to the tournament helps you financially, but the exposure we received from Kyle and all the players to everything, I think it will help our profile,” Evans said. “We should be able to recruit a different athlete, different type of player. I think we will be able to compete and get back here.”
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