ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Florida craves more than another NIT appearance this season. It aspires to wildly mob each other on its way to the NCAA Tournament, like how it celebrated after upsetting No. 2 Michigan State.
Erving Walker made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:56 left as the Gators knocked off the Spartans 77-74 Friday in the semifinals of the Legends Classic.
"I'm just so happy these guys could experience a night like tonight against a terrific team," said coach Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to national titles in 2006 and 2007 before NIT appearances the past two seasons.
For a program known for producing gaudy numbers under coach Tom Izzo — five Final Four appearances since 1999 — the Spartans (4-1) had some ugly ones in their first loss.
They hacked the Gators with bad fouls down the stretch, committed 23 turnovers and missed 8 of 10 3-point attempts.
"I'm shocked we were even in the game the way we turned it over," Izzo said. "I can't really say we weren't ready to play, because we were."
Walker finished with 12 points and seven assists for the Gators (5-0), who face Rutgers in tonight's championship game. He made his 3 from beyond NBA range in front of Florida's bench for a 72-71 lead.
"We just wanted to prove to people we could be mentioned in the same breath as (Michigan State)," Walker said.
"I think we found out a lot more about us," Donovan said. "We have a chance to really improve and grow from this. The guys in the locker rooms are the ones who really did all the work."