NASHVILLE — At the beginning of the week, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he couldn't concern himself with the NCAA Tournament because outside of winning, everything else was out of the Gators' control.
Friday night, the Gators had an opportunity to seize control of their fate and virtually ensure themselves a spot in the tournament with a victory in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
But that opportunity slipped away when Mississippi State avenged a regular-season loss with a 75-69 win.
Now the Gators (21-12) must sit, hope and wait until Sunday.
"We really don't know," sophomore guard Erving Walker said. "We're just keeping our fingers crossed, and hopefully, we'll hear our name on Sunday."
Florida, which is last in the SEC in 3-point defense, had no answer for the Bulldogs from beyond the arc. Mississippi State (22-10) made 7 of 11 in the first half and 10 of 20 for the game.
And although the Gators scored 24 in the paint, they couldn't get any offense from center Vernon Macklin, who had 20 points and six rebounds in the 69-62 victory over Mississippi State in Gainesville on Feb. 6.
Friday, the Bulldogs made a significant effort to take him out of the game (1-for-3, six rebounds), which Donovan had predicted.
"I told Vernon at shootaround (Friday) that they're going to try to take you out of the game and not allow you to score and force some other people to step up," Donovan said.
"The problem wasn't really with our offense because we shot 54 percent in the second half. But giving up 50 percent from the 3-point line is way, way too high of a percentage."
Florida once again found itself in a predicament that plagued it in four of its previous five games — trailing by double figures early. Florida never led and trailed 39-28 at halftime. Trailing 58-39 with 13:30 remaining, Florida went on a 14-0 run to pull within five with 8:17 remaining.
But every time the Gators got close, the Bulldogs had an answer — or the Gators hurt themselves.
With 1:22 remaining, Walker's jumper pulled the Gators within 70-66. Then after a Mississippi State missed shot, a pass to an open Dan Werner near the basket bounced off of his hands and went out of bounds with 47 seconds remaining.
"That was a play I wish we could have had back," Donovan said. "We had numbers, and we had an advantage. And it was right inside of a minute with a chance to cut it to two."
As for the NCAA Tournament?
"I have no idea," Donovan said. "I think we've played a very, very competitive schedule. We've had some really, really good quality wins. If that's good enough, then so be it."
For now, they wait and ponder what might have been.
"We didn't come out hard enough," freshman guard Kenny Boynton said. "All of us knew what was at stake. Now we just have to wait."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.