Colin Castleton nailed his second free throw and built Florida’s lead to six points. He strode back to defense. There were six minutes left before the Sweet 16.
In the city that hosts the electrifyingly fast Indianapolis 500, Gators head coach Mike White slowed things down.
The clock ticked, and the Gators idled. Their seven-point lead dwindled until a three-point shot from Oral Roberts forward DeShang Weaver put the Golden Eagles up 80-78 late in the game.
The Gators never regained their lead and saw their season come to an end when the 15th-seeded Oral Roberts knocked off 7th-seeded Florida 81-78 to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We were tired,” White said. “I thought that part of slowing it down would help us settle in with some of the erratic decisions that we were making offensively.”
Oral Roberts is the second 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16 after FGCU in 2013. The win over Florida was ORU’s second March Madness win since 1974.
You don’t know how good they are until you actually play them,” sophomore guard Tre Mann said.
Florida entered the game favored by nine points, according to SportsLine. Yet Oral Roberts exploited faults in White’s strategy. That ill-fated three with two minutes and nine seconds left was the Golden Eagles’ first lead in the second half. But there are more reasons why Florida’s dance is over and Oral Roberts’ Cinderella story continues.
The Gators shot 7 for 9 from the foul line compared to Oral Roberts 19 for 23, but turnovers and poor clock management spun UF off course, too. Oral Roberts preyed on Florida and gave up possession after possession.
Florida turned the ball over a staggering 10 times in the first half and made matters worse by turning the ball over another 10 times in the second half. Oral Roberts finished with 12 total turnovers.
Every UF player who touched a basketball in the first half turned it over at least once. Four players ended with at least three turnovers. Mann claimed four, and junior forward Colin Castleton had five.
“To me it was a mentality that this team, unfortunately, never fully embraced the importance, unfortunately, of each possession,” White said.
Over the two games in the NCAA Tournament, the Golden Eagles’ turnover ratio is +18. They ruined millions of brackets in their win against Ohio State by winning the turnover battle 16-6.
Florida struggled with keeping the basketball all year. This season, Florida had a turnover rate of 23.2% in half-court. When operating in the last 21-30 seconds of the shot clock, it turned the ball over a staggering 24.6% of the time, according to GatorsTerritory’s Eric Fawcett.
With that turnover rate from Florida in half-court, the strategy Oral Roberts implemented became simple. When Florida wasted time with the basketball, it was only more likely to turn the ball over — especially when it’s subsequently forced to rush at the end of the game, as that 24.6% turnover rate would indicate.
Oral Roberts played aggressive all night, and when faced with the opportunity to cash in on Florida’s turnovers, it didn’t waste time. The Golden Eagles scored 23 points off of turnovers and scored 16 points in the last six minutes. Florida, as it tried to milk the clock, only scored seven and attempted eight field goals.
Florida fans made no attempts to hide their clamoring for White’s job after consistent bounces from the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. White may have opted to eat up the clock toward the end of the game, but the six-year head coach’s time may be running out soon.
“I'm crushed right now,” White said. “It's been a long year. It's been a really long year.”
Contact River Wells at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells