When they have been at their best this season, the Florida Gators relied heavily on the sharp outside shooting of their guards, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, with help from forward Chandler Parsons.
But Saturday afternoon, on the biggest stage of their season, with a trip to the Final Four on the line, the outside shots wouldn't fall. The Gators mysteriously went away from the inside game that was so effective for 31 minutes. And for only the second time in six tries this season, overtime wasn't in Florida's favor.
The Gators squandered a double-digit lead in regulation, then went 2-of-5 from the field and missed 3 of 8 free throws in overtime in a 74-71 loss to Butler in the NCAA Southeast Region final at the New Orleans Arena.
It was Walker, who had played brilliantly down the stretch last week to get the Gators to the Sweet 16, who missed Florida's final shots — both 3-pointers — at the end of regulation to win it and with 13.9 seconds remaining in overtime to tie it.
Tied at 60 in regulation, Florida took possession with 30.7 seconds remaining after a timeout then held for the final shot. With six seconds on the clock, Walker set up for a 3-point jumper that missed as time expired.
"We just wanted to get the last shot," he said. "We didn't want to give them any opportunity to score and we let the clock run down, and coach called a play and the shot. I got a good look at it, but the shot just didn't go down."
That's how it went for the Gators (29-8). Florida's guards struggled to get open looks: Walker and Boynton combined to go 0-for-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-15 from the field in regulation. Parsons was 2-of-9 from the field and had five points and seven rebounds in the game. The Gators shot 3-of-14 from 3-point range.
What did work for Florida was the inside play of center Vernon Macklin and forward Alex Tyus. Macklin had a career-high 25 points, dominating Butler inside. Tyus added 14 points and 10 rebounds. The two combined to shoot 17-for-26 from the field. The rest of the team? 8-for-31.
The Gators took a 51-40 lead with 9:25 remaining. But with Macklin in foul trouble and the Florida guards struggling, Butler went on a 17-6 run to tie the score at 57 with 3:03 remaining. The Gators went a good portion of the second half without Macklin, who picked up his fourth foul with 9:02 remaining in regulation.
And for Butler (27-9), every loose ball and rebound fell its way down the stretch. Butler outrebounded Florida 41-34 and scored 18 second-chance points, five in overtime.
"We just kind of stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently," Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens. "I'm incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach in a big way. … Our players did a great job, and (they are) just a special group. We're really lucky that they're Butler Bulldogs."
Shelvin Mack had 27 points for the Bulldogs, who reached the Final Four for the second year in a row, the first team from outside the six power conferences to reach consecutive Final Fours since UNLV in 1990-91.
"This is a huge deal," said Zach Hahn, whose two 3s helped Butler stay close in the first half. "I don't know that any other mid major has ever done this."
Close games had been Florida's strength this season. The Gators entered 9-3 in games decided by six points or fewer and 4-1 in overtime. It was not to be on Saturday as Butler won its first overtime game this season in four tries.
"There was a lot of talk about close games and us winning close games and how many overtime games we've played," coach Billy Donovan said. "But you know what, you also realize when you play in enough of those games, there are some that can go the other way. So maybe we'd like to trade one of those SEC overtime games for a game like today. But we can't do that."