After the brackets were released, seemingly everyone spent the first few days talking about how they had UNC Wilmington or Middle Tennessee making a big upset or even a Sweet 16 run. However, one of this year’s under-looked upset picks was East Tennessee State over Florida.
For a while, it looked like ETSU had a shot, but Florida ultimately prevailed 80-65 Thursday afternoon in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Florida finished second in the SEC this season and remains the ninth-ranked team in KenPom. By no means are the Gators a weak team, and the biggest thing working against them was the loss of John Egbunu, who tore his left ACL in mid-February.
Starting off, it seemed as if the Buccaneers were in trouble. The Gators jumped out to a quick eight-point lead, and it was the best that their offense would look until the second half.
ETSU managed to make a run to close the gap, eventually going into the locker room at halftime only trailing 33-32. At the close of the first half, Florida looked incredibly discombobulated. They were turning it over often, and they had great trouble hitting perimeter shots (but boy did they try).
In the second half, Florida began to reemerge as an offensive force. What they had done so poorly at the end of the first half came together again, culminating in a massive Florida run that squashed any hopes the Buccaneers had of pulling off the upset.
After allowing a three to put the ETSU lead at 35-33, something clicked for the Gators. That’s especially true for Florida’s Devin Robinson, who managed to hit back-to-back threes that extended the Florida lead to seven points. It was the catalyst that Florida needed to finally put this game to bed.
The Buccaneers were severely hampered in this one by Florida’s post defense, which was surprisingly stout without Egbunu. In the second half, when ETSU couldn’t hit jumpers and Florida was pulling away, the Buccaneers tried going inside. It was an incredibly futile effort, as the Gators were seemingly always able to force a turnover or prevent East Tennessee State from getting a good inside look.
The biggest example of this can be seen when looking at the stat line of Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The senior forward managed to get some good looks, but he was hampered all night by Florida. As with the rest of the Buccaneers, his offensive game suffered, and he ended up scoring only 7 points on 3-9 shooting.
Much praise must be given to T.J. Cromer, who shot exceptionally well. Cromer’s 19 came from 7-13 shooting, he made half of his perimeter shots, and his overall performance was stellar; it was one reason why the Buccaneers were able to hang with Florida for so long.
If you are a Buccaneers fan, that first half certainly left you believing that the upset could come to fruition. In the second half, those dreams came crashing down. Still, today’s loss marked the end of what was a great season for ETSU, who fought valiantly against one of the country’s top teams.
Florida will face off against 5 seed Virginia this Saturday.