ARLINGTON, Texas — Erik Murphy sat alone at his locker and quietly shed tears. Mike Rosario sat two stalls down, trying desperately to explain what went wrong. And Scottie Wilbekin sat between the two and expressed utter amazement at Florida's third consecutive loss in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight.
The Gators' attempt reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007 fell woefully short in a 79-59 loss to Michigan in the South Region final in front of 36,585 on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. Florida, which fell into a 13-0 hole, suffered its second-worst tournament loss — behind 108-85 in the second round in 1988 to Michigan.
Michigan (30-7) advanced to its first Final Four since the Fab Five in 1993. Florida (29-8) became the first team to lose three consecutive region finals.
"I didn't think this was going to happen, but it just did," Wilbekin said.
The Gators shot 18.8 percent (3-of-16) from the field during the first 10 minutes and trailed by 18 just 8:37 in. Senior guard Kenny Boynton said that made this Elite Eight loss much tougher than the previous two (by four to Louisville in 2012 and by three in overtime to Butler in 2011).
"I think we buried ourselves," Boynton said. "At the beginning of the game, we did it to ourselves. We came out against Florida Gulf Coast (on Friday) and did the same thing (shot poorly). But somehow, we got back into the game. But this team, they were a better team. They never let us back in the game. The better team won."
Florida trailed 47-30 at halftime. It began the second half by holding Michigan to 0-for-5 shooting in the first 2:15 while going on a 6-0 run. But Florida never got the lead under double digits. For every good move the Gators made, Michigan countered.
"We were trying to cut the lead down possession by possession," Wilbekin said. "We went on a little run there, but … we didn't play really smart. We missed easy shots. We missed 3s, and they played great. You can't win like that."
Florida, which entered third in the nation in scoring defense at 53.7 points per game, put heavy emphasis on containing star guard Trey Burke. But it couldn't contain Nik Stauskas who scored 19 of his game-high 22 points during the first half while going 5-of-5 on 3-pointers. (He finished 6-of-6 on 3-pointers.)
"My teammates did a great job finding me," Stauskas said.
While Florida struggled offensively, junior center Patric Young picked up his second foul 2:00 into the game and played just 11 first-half minutes. In his absence, Michigan outscored the Gators 22-5 in the paint and 8-2 in second-chance points.
"It was difficult to have to sit on the bench so early," Young said. "And then to have to come back out and try not to pick up a third was a lot of pressure as well."
The Gators were outscored 21-4 in fastbreak points and shot just 2-for-10 from 3-point range. Murphy was 0-for-11 from the field (0-for-2 on 3-pointers) with eight rebounds.
"It was just me," said a distraught Murphy, who reportedly was sick Saturday night. "It was just me. The shots didn't go in. They just didn't fall for me."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.
By the numbers
0 Points scored by Gators senior forward Erik Murphy; the first-team all-SEC pick entered averaging 12.6.
1 Team, Florida, to reach three consecutive region finals without winning one.
2 Gator losses this season, among eight, by double digits, Sunday and 80-69 to Arkansas on Feb. 5.
6 Shots Florida missed to start the game in falling behind 13-0