Marshall's misses pave way for Gators The Cinderella region: Florida and BC advance to East final

March 26, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- They should have seen it coming. The third-ranked Huskies of Connecticut should have known that they were next on the list, even as Big East Player of the Year Donyell Marshall stepped to the free-throw line with two chances to push them ahead in the upset-riddled NCAA East Regional.

Marshall led the Big East in scoring with 25.4 points per game. He is a 76 percent free-throw shooter. He needed only to make one of two at the line to put UConn ahead with three seconds left in regulation.

Instead, he missed both attempts and the Florida Gators seized the moment, scoring a 69-60 victory in overtime to move into tomorrow's regional final against Boston College.

The Huskies had gone nearly 10 minutes without a field goal during a second-half stretch that ushered Florida back into the game. They were outscored 12-3 in overtime by a team not thought to be their equal. They had every opportunity to lock up the game long before the final seconds of regulation, and yet Marshall walked off the court with the weight of his team's NCAA tournament hopes positioned squarely on his shoulders.

The first shot rattled off the rim and Gators coach Lon Kruger called timeout to let Marshall think about it. The second shot hit the back of the rim and bounded into the hands of center Andrew DeClercq. The Huskies had climbed almost to the top of the national rankings, only to be sunk by a free throw that wasn't.

"I've made those shots before," a dejected Marshall said. "I felt very confident on the [second] shot. It just hit the rim and bounced out. There's nothing you can do about that."

The pain was written all over his face.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun tried to wipe it away, but it will be a long time before Marshall will be able to forget those two free throws.

"Donyell Marshall is a large, large percentage of why we're here playing in the Sweet Sixteen," Calhoun said. "Donyell Marshall is a large reason we won 21 basketball games. Donyell Marshall is a giant, giant reason why we won the Big East by three basketball games. Donyell Marshall has made a lot of shots for us, and before it's over, he'll make a lot more."

The Gators called a timeout after the rebound and set up a play, but the 60-footer by center Dimitri Hill hit the shot clock and the game went into overtime.

It might not have come to that if the Gators had been more opportunistic in the second half.

After Connecticut went nearly 10 minutes without scoring from the field, the Huskies collected themselves in the final four minutes to put themselves in position for the winning shot.

Florida guard Dan Cross had put down two pressure free throws to tie the game with 31 seconds left and keep hope alive, but the Gators appeared to throw away their big chance when DeClercq fouled Marshall on a running jumper with three seconds left.

Marshall gave the Gators new life, and given five extra minutes to make it right, they took the ball inside and hammered away until it was done, converting six of seven free throws in overtime.

The Huskies again struggled to put the ball in the basket from the field, making their first and only field goal of the overtime period with 16 seconds left.

"I thought it was an awfully good basketball game," said Gators coach Lon Kruger. "We really have a lot of respect for UConn. We've watched them all year, and that makes the win even more special because we have that much respect for UConn and what they have accomplished over the year.

"If there is one thing that is unfortunate about this game, it is that Donyell Marshall had to go through something like that at the end, but we obviously benefited from that. This is a big-time win and it is very important to us."

The Gators advanced on a three-pronged scoring attack that featured 17 points each from Cross and guard Craig Brown and 15 points from Hill.

Doron Sheffer scored 18 to lead the Huskies, who got also got 16 from Donyell Marshall and 10 from Donny Marshall.

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