Entering their showdown with the number-one overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Dayton Flyers were the last remaining double-digit seed left in the Elite Eight. But after taking down Ohio State and Syracuse and bulling past Stanford in the Sweet 16, Archie Miller’s crew hung in early before the Florida Gators ratcheted up the pressure and ran away with the 62-52 victory in Memphis on Saturday.
Billy Donovan’s veteran squad came out slowly, and with less than five minutes left in the first quarter the Flyers were keeping level with the Gators on the scoreboard. Kendall Pollard’s layup with 4:40 remaining pulled things level at 23-23. For a moment it seemed like the fairy-tale run might continue for Dayton.
Yet by the time the two teams headed to the locker room for the intermission, Florida had turned the screws and built a 14-point lead. In that span before halftime, senior guard Scottie WIlbekin scored nine of his game-high 23 points and dished an assist to fuel the offensive explosion.
Dayton would gamely try to keep itself in the contest in the second half, but the Gators merely allowed them to yo-yo within certain parameters. The Flyers would reduce the deficit to eight points on several occasions, but Florida would never let them get any closer as they kept alive its chance at the school’s third national championship. After shooting over 45 percent from the field in their first three NCAA Tournament victories, the Flyers were held under 40 percent by the Gators.
Now Billy Donovan’s team prepares for its trip to Dallas next weekend, where they will play the winner of tomorrow’s Elite Eight showdown between Michigan State and Connecticut. The Flyers, playing with house money at this point of the tournament, will nevertheless wonder what might have been as they prepare for the long flight home to Dayton.