GAINESVILLE — As he walked off the O'Connell Center floor Tuesday night with arms raised above his head in celebration, the bad times seemed a million years away for Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons.
The two NIT appearances. The days when his freshman class was locked out of its premier basketball facility and forced to use Florida's old practice area and do its own laundry.
In his final home game as a Gator, only one thing mattered: Parsons and fellow seniors Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Adam Allen walked away not only as winners — but as champions.
No. 14 Florida outscored Alabama 48-21 in the second half to earn a 78-51 victory and clinch at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship. A victory on Saturday at Vanderbilt would give the Gators (23-6, 12-3) the title outright. It is the fifth team in Florida history to win an SEC title.
"It feels great," said Parsons, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds. "I couldn't think of a better way to go out, getting to share the SEC championship. The best thing about it is Saturday we have an opportunity to go and win on the road and be the only SEC champs, not just have a share of it. We still have a lot of work to do, but it definitely feels good."
It was a game that defined a tale of two halves. Alabama (19-10, 11-4) entered the game ranked No. 2 nationally in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37.3 percent shooting. Florida shot 11-of-30 from the field in the first half and was 2-of-12 from 3-point range. The score was tied at 30 at the half.
But leading 39-38 with 15:05 remaining, Florida went on a 17-4 run to take a 56-42 lead with 8:56 remaining.
Macklin had 19 points and six rebounds and Tyus added 12 points and nine rebounds. Allen, who has had three knee surgeries and has not played in three seasons, entered the game with 25 seconds remaining and was allowed to dribble the ball down court to end the game.
"We put together a half that was really incredible," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I couldn't be more proud and excited. There haven't been a lot of SEC championships in Florida's basketball history. And for Chandler, Alex and Vernon to have a piece of that, and not only a piece of that, but to play the way they did tonight. All three of them had a huge impact in the game.
"I'm just so happy for them. I didn't know three or four years ago if a day like today was possible for some of these guys. And just the way they have grown, the way they have battled, for me as a coach I was really happy sitting there watching them."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.