The Dayton Flyers put on a strong showing against the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Dayton, the team's performance wasn't quite enough to continue its Cinderella run and overtake the tournament's top team, as the Flyers fell by 62-52.
FINAL FOUR for FLORIDA! (1) Florida defeats (11) Dayton 62-52. Scottie Wilbekin scores 23 points for the Gators in their 30th straight win!— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) March 30, 2014
Defense shined for both teams during the first half of action. Each squad was strong inside and didn't allow many open looks. Florida continued its aggressive nature, driving with intensity into the paint. Dayton relied more on shooting from downtown, connecting on four of its nine three-point attempts.
Over this span, the game looked more like a chess match than anything, as Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noted:
Six minutes in, Dayton has used 10 players. Florida has used 9.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 29, 2014
The close game didn't last long, though.
The Gators began to pull away late in the half, going on a 19-3 run while Dayton struggled to find any sort of high-percentage shots. Scottie Wilbekin ended the half in style, connecting from downtown to increase the Gators' lead to 14 going into halftime.
Kevin Brockway of GatorSports.com tweeted Wilbekin's statistics during his stellar late-half surge:
Wilbekin scored 11 pts during UF's 15-1 run to close the first half.— Kevin Brockway (@gatorhoops) March 29, 2014
Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports elaborated on Wilbekin's recent efficiency:
Scottie Wilbekin's now gone more than 2 full #Florida games w/o committing a turnover. Not since the 9 min mark of 1st half of Pitt game— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) March 29, 2014
SportsCenter's Twitter account highlighted the Gators' tremendous run:
Here come the Gators! Top overall seed Florida closes the half on a 19-3 run to take a 38-24 halftime lead vs Dayton. pic.twitter.com/v91KW7gOoi— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2014
This run allowed Florida to enter the break up, 38-24, on the Flyers.
Dayton isn't used to being down by such a large margin; ESPN Stats & Info shared an intriguing stat about the Flyers earlier in the game:
Florida's 5-point lead at 17:43 tied Dayton's largest deficit of the tournament so far.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2014
At the break, Florida was shooting 48.1 percent from the field, while Dayton converted 30.8 percent of its shots. The teams were very even down low, as Florida out-rebounded Dayton, 18-15.
As soon as it seemed this game was getting out of hand, the Flyers surged.
Within the very first minute of the second half, Dayton was riding a 6-0 run and found itself down by just eight points.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports discussed the Flyers' fine execution:
Dayton fighting back with two corner threes. First one off a nice play call and execution. Billy D quick timeout to correct the D.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 29, 2014
Just as it seemed Dayton was climbing back into the game, Patric Young took over for the Gators. The Flyers didn't appear to have an answer for him in the paint, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
ESPN's Eamonn Brennan commented on Young's prowess:
Patric Young is just absolutely burying Matt Kavanaugh under the rim every time he seals.— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) March 29, 2014
While Young dominated the interior, Dayton continued to settle for three-point attempts—to little avail. Suddenly, the Gators were sitting pretty, up 12 points with 15 minutes remaining.
Dayton kept struggling in the paint, and ESPN Stats & Info shared a very telling statistic:
Patric Young currently has more paint points (8) than Dayton's entire team.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2014
Florida kept this up late in the game, racking up offensive boards and taking crucial time off the clock. With three minutes remaining, Florida had accumulated 12 offensive rebounds to Dayton's five.
Dayton would not give up, though, as the Flyers clawed to within eight points with 2:30 to play. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports likened the game to a brawl:
This has become a bar fight. Florida not making any shots but getting every rebound. Dayton battling for all it's worth. Will not submit.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 30, 2014
But with just one minute remaining, Dayton committed a huge turnover as valuable seconds ticked away. Florida took advantage, connecting on two free throws, increasing its lead to 10 and essentially icing the game.
Wilbekin led the Gators in scoring with 23 points and added three assists and three steals. Young was strong down low over the course of the contest and finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
Wilbekin was named the South Regional's Most Outstanding Player, and Jimmy Burch of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram tweeted a picture of the Florida star cutting down the net:
Dyshawn Pierre looked good for Dayton, racking up 18 points and adding three rebounds and five assists. Devin Oliver had a great stroke from downtown, going 4-of-7 from behind the arc and chipping in with 12 points.
Florida is now the first team to move on to the Final Four. The Gators will play the survivor of No. 4 Michigan State against No. 7 Connecticut.
As the Gators march into the Final Four, its seniors must be breathing a sigh of relief, according to this tweet from Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:
Have to feel good for Florida's seniors after Elite Eight losses against Butler (2011), Louisville (2012) and Michigan (2013).— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 30, 2014
Following the game, Young acknowledged how the tables had turned, via Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports:
Patric Young: "We've been on the other end of this three years in a row."— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2014
Head coach Billy Donovan has been fantastic during his tenure at Florida. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated emphasized Donovan's success with the school in this tweet:
This will mark Donovan's fourth Final Four. It's the fifth in program history for Florida.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 30, 2014
Both of Florida's potential opponents in the next round have been on fire lately. Connecticut outdueled the high-octane Iowa State Cyclones in the Sweet 16, and Michigan State won a defensive struggle against No. 1 seed Virginia.
Florida is a very well-rounded team, currently riding the longest winning streak in the nation. Whether the Gators take on the Huskies or Spartans, they will prove to be a highly formidable opponent once again.
Just how hot of a streak is Florida on? ESPN Stats and Info tweeted the current number:
Florida's 36 wins this season are a school record.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2014
For now, the Gators have plenty to celebrate. Although, it won't be long until they begin preparations for their Final Four matchup on April 5.