OMAHA, Neb. -- This is why we can't have nice things. Well, Florida is why we can't have nice things. Norfolk State from the MEAC was a nice thing, brazenly beating second-seeded Missouri in its first game and then winning us over with two days of charming press conferences, making us dream that these brazen, charming Spartans might become the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16.
It was a nice dream. And Norfolk State was a nice thing. But this NCAA tournament will continue without both of them, because Florida is a scary basketball team when it's playing like it played Sunday in the Round of 32.
Which is to say, better than Florida played on Friday in the Round of 64. And on Friday, Florida beat Virginia by 26 points.
Two minutes into the second half on Sunday, Florida was beating Norfolk State by 31. The final was 84-50, and it shouldn't be dismissed as a predictable SEC blowout against an outmanned team from the MEAC. That victory Friday by Norfolk State against Missouri was no fluke, no matter how ungraciously Mizzou coach Frank Haith tried to spin it afterward.
Norfolk State ran up and down the floor with the Tigers, unafraid early and unimpressed as the game wore on. Missouri had wanted to get Norfolk State into a track meet, assuming its superior basketball bloodlines would win out over 40 minutes. Norfolk accepted the challenge, then stuck out its chest and beat the Tigers to the tape.
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That was Friday, but this was different. Florida wasn't interested in racing Norfolk State -- Florida was interested in stomping Norfolk State. The Gators gave Norfolk State the ultimate respect, treating the Spartans as though they could win if given the chance.
So Florida didn't give them the chance.
Barely three minutes into the game, trailing 6-4, the Gators went to the same full-court pressure that had dissolved Virginia -- and they dissolved Norfolk State. The Spartans were working so hard to get it past halfcourt that when they did, they wearily threw away entry passes. A lob out of bounds. A pass into the lane to nobody, also going out of bounds. A loose ball into the hands of Florida's Erving Walker.
At the other end, Florida was making damn near everything. A 3-pointer by Kenny Boynton. Another by Bradley Beal. And then Walker. Two in a row by Erik Murphy. Free throws and putbacks and short jumpers, oh my. By the time it was over, it was a 25-0 run by the Gators.
And it was over.
It was 29-6, and there were still 30 minutes to play, but it was over. And it wasn't Norfolk State's fault. This wasn't a bad team playing like a bad team and getting clocked, because Norfolk State isn't bad. Bad teams don't win 26 games, No. 26 coming against the No. 3 team in the country (Missouri's ranking, entering the NCAA tournament). This wasn't that.
This was a potentially great team playing to its potential, playing so good that it overcame the knucklehead tendencies that have marked Florida in a 10-loss season that has been underachieving until the only time that matters -- now. Florida is in the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in school history, six since Billy Donovan took over in 1996.
The Gators still have some knucklehead in them -- his name is Kenny Boynton -- but they were so good Sunday that it didn't matter. The good includes Boynton himself, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists but undermined his most complete game of the season with two knucklehead moves. First, after scoring 10 points in the first 12 minutes, Boynton gave himself a heat-check by chucking an early, closely guarded 3-pointer. It was an air ball, and the ball had barely landed near the Norfolk State band before Donovan was walking onto the court, disgustedly signaling timeout and putting Boynton on the bench.
In the second half Boynton drew a technical foul after getting slightly tangled with a Norfolk State player and responding, when he thought nobody was looking, by lightly swatting the Spartan on the head. Oops -- somebody was looking, and after a quick peek at the monitor confirmed for officials what they thought had happened, Norfolk State was shooting four free throws and Boynton was being benched again.
But Florida led 59-34, because it's like I said earlier: This was over. Had been since that colossal 25-0 run. It was so over that even the guys deep on Florida's bench were playing in the first half. Cody Larson, who has 12 points on the season and hasn't scored since Dec. 9, was on the court in the first half. So was Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who scored 1,000 points in two years in the Big East and started this season so promisingly -- with 19 in the opener -- but has disappeared of late. Rosario, who has averaged less than 3 points per game in the last month, had eight points in the first half.
That kind of game for Florida. Boynton scored his most points in a month. Walker finished with 15, Beal 14, Rosario 12, Murphy 10. Almost everyone was excellent offensively for Florida -- everyone but its most physically gifted player, Patric Young, who has Thomas Robinson-like potential but who gets lost sometimes among all the guards at Florida. And Young got lost on Sunday, getting just three shots from the field and finishing with six points. But Young was unforgiving at the other end against Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn, who went from 26 points and 14 rebounds against Missouri to four-and-three vs. Florida.
When it was over, Florida's players lingered in the handshake line to congratulate Norfolk State for its season, and then the crowd at the CenturyLink Center did the same -- giving the Spartans a standing ovation as they left the floor.
So maybe I was wrong. Maybe we can have nice things.
But we also have a scary thing -- this Florida team, which has looked as good in two games as any in the NCAA tournament.