WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Lon Kruger left the Florida Gators behind four years ago.
On Sunday, they turned the tables on him.
Florida's 93-76 victory over Illinois in the second round of the East Regional put the Gators into the round of 16 for back-to-back years for the first time in school history. It also improved the Gators to 4-1 in NCAA tourney play under coach Billy Donovan, who succeeded Kruger following his departure to lead the Illini.
"They pretty much had control of a lot of things throughout," Kruger said of the Gators, who harassed Illinois into 39-percent shooting and 15 turnovers. "Florida just never gave us much of a crack to make a run."
Freshman reserve guard Brett Nelson had 16 points and three steals to spark the Gators on a day when they had to go through a crucial first-half stretch without top player Mike Miller, benched with foul troubles.
"Brett made great decisions," Donovan said. "I don't think people truly appreciate how far that kid has come from the first day he set foot on campus."
Nelson hit four of his six attempts from 3-point range, adding more punch to a fast-paced Florida style that proved to be too much for Illinois.
"This feels really good," Nelson said, "but we can't look back on these two games. We want to keep advancing."
Miller had 13 of his 19 points in the second half as fifth-seeded Florida (26-7) defeated the Illini for the first time in their five meetings. Teddy Dupay added 16 points and Udonis Haslem 15.
"We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," Miller said. "That's our style."
Fourth-seeded Illinois (22-10) got 27 points from Cory Bradford but little help from anyone else. Sergio McClain, with 11 points, was the only other Illinois player in double figures.
Freshman Frank Williams, who had a season-high 21 points to lead Illinois past Pennsylvania in the opening round, got into first-half foul trouble against Florida and didn't score until nearly 23 minutes into the game. He finished with six points. Marcus Griffin, who had 17 in the opening round, contributed just nine against Florida.
"We weren't pleased with the way we performed," Bradford said. "We could have done a better job, but it's too late."
Florida was trailing by two points when Miller went to the bench with 4:50 left in the first half after being assessed his second personal foul. But Nelson scored five points and Matt Bonner added four as the Gators closed the half with a 13-5 run for a 40-34 lead.
The Gators were particularly effective in the second half, drawing Illinois into a running game and forcing nine turnovers. Florida 54 percent in the half and scored 53 points.
"I thought our style of play was very, very effective," Donovan said. "The game really started to get going up and down the floor in the second half, and that was to our liking."
Florida opened the second half by getting two 3-pointers from Dupay and one from Nelson to stretch it to 53-41.
Illinois was unable to significantly cut into its deficit and Nelson pushed Florida's lead to 67-53 with 11:01 left when he stole an errant pass and hit a 3-pointer.
After the Gators pushed it to 14 again, this time at 74-60 on a 17-foot jumper by Miller with seven minutes remaining, Illinois was unable to cut its deficit to single digits the rest of the way.
The Gators, who pushed their lead as high as the final margin, sealed it by making 11 of 14 free throws in the last 3:14.
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us