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Butler couldn't stop Macklin, so why did Gators?

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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NEW ORLEANS — Florida's Vernon Macklin played the game of his life.

Literally.

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The Gators center scored a career-high 25 points in only 24 minutes in Saturday’s Southeast Regional final against Butler. Macklin had been most known for what he hadn't accomplished in his college career more than anything else. He transferred from Georgetown to Florida after not finding playing time with the likes of Roy Hibbert and Patrick Ewing Jr. standing in his way.

And yet it's the opportunity not given to Macklin that could be his lasting memory in the Gators’ 74-71 loss to Butler at the New Orleans Arena as Florida's biggest and best weapon sat on the bench in the final seconds of regulation.

Florida coach Billy Donovan opened the postgame press conference by saying he thought Macklin would have the opportunity to play one-on-one from the post. It looked more like one-on-none. Butler threw nearly every player at Macklin to no avail. Even Butler's Mr. Clutch, Matt Howard, took a stab at defending Macklin and the Florida center bullied his way around Howard for a layup. Howard switched assignments on the next possession.

It's the Macklin everyone expected out of high school. It showed up in his last college game as he went 11 of 14 from the floor, including Florida's final field goal of regulation as his layup gave the Gators a 60-57 lead with 1:57 remaining.

But instead of feeding the beast in a tie game with a trip to the Final Four on the line, Donovan elected to place the winning shot in the hands of an ice-cold Erving Walker. He dribbled the ball for about 25 of the final 30 seconds, made his move with about five seconds left and fired a 3-point prayer from Baton Rouge that didn't fall, sending the game into overtime.

To not have Macklin on the floor as an option in the final seconds in a tie game, considering how dominant he played against Butler, was the blunder of the game.

"Well, I think you want to put the ball in a guy's hands that you feel like can make that kind of shot," Donovan said. "I thought in regulation we got Erving Walker a great look. I was blocked off. I think Chandler kind of ran in front of me so I couldn't see how clean it was, and he told me he had a great look, he was really wide open, and he was disappointed he missed that one."

The look from Macklin's seat on the bench was clear as day as he saw himself on the bench and not on the floor.

Florida's fumbling all started midway through the second half, when the low post game disappeared David Copperfield-style. It came to an apex when Macklin picked up his fourth foul with 9:02 left in the second half, forcing him to play sparingly the rest of regulation. Florida didn't go to the lengthy Alex Tyus, who finished with 14 points, as much and began to settle for jump shots.

Butler had already taken away most of Florida's backcourt scoring depth. SEC player of the year Chandler Parsons short-armed just about every shot, only going 2 of 9 from the floor with five points, while Walker missed nine of his 10 shots and all eight in regulation.

"When Vernon comes off the floor, I don't know if we have necessarily a low post offensive presence when he's off the floor,” Donovan said. "And he probably came off the floor -- when he got fouled twice in overtime, he went one for two from the free-throw line.

"And I knew at that point in time they were just not going to allow him to do what he did in the first half. If he was going to get an angle, they were going to foul him. So I kind of made a decision to at least pull him out and go with Patric [Young], and Patric probably as a freshman is not as seasoned or as polished as Vernon is as a senior, so he's a hard guy to go to."

Yet Young and Macklin combined to score the final five points in regulation for the Gators, so that point rings hollow.

You can understand Donovan yanking Macklin after picking up his fourth foul Butler would have likely played "Hack-a-Macklin" and sent him to the line where he shoots free throws with the consistency of Shaquille O'Neal (of Hack-a-Shaq fame). But if you feed the ball to Macklin with five seconds remaining, instead of throwing up a prayer, you at least have a high-percentage shot from a guy who was playing the game of his life.

Play for the win. Not for overtime.

"It's frustrating," Macklin said. "I wanted to be on the floor. I'm not that great of a free-throw shooter so I didn't want to jeopardize my teammates. I think coach Donovan made a great decision. I picked up some early fouls, some dumb fouls I shouldn't have gotten. That's on me. I should have been in the right position."

Agree on all counts. But Macklin didn't understand why the low-post game vanished.

"I feel like our players just really wasn't looking for us," Macklin said. "I also feel like it just happened. I don't know. It's just how the game went."

When asked if this was a game that Butler won or that Florida let get away, Tyus said that Florida "definitely" let the game get away.

"I felt like they [Butler] were all right," Tyus said. "But just move on."

Donovan didn’t exactly agree with the sentiments.

"I mean, Vernon had 27, 25 points. Alex had 14 points," Donovan said. "I mean, they really did the bulk of our scoring. I think if you looked at our backcourt, Kenny Boynton only took nine shots. Going into the last shot there in overtime, he had eight shots. So I don't feel that way. I think -- you know, I think that Vernon we went to and he was able to score, and he did some good things. ... But I think like anything else, those guys would like to impact the ball."

You think? I bet Macklin thinks so.

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