Manhattan devours Florida, gets rare chance for NCAA seconds

No. 12 seed Jaspers lead most of way in 75-60 win

Ncaa Regional

East Rutherford

March 19, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - As Manhattan was getting ready earlier this week to play Florida in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, junior forward Peter Mulligan thought about something he saw the Gators do on television this season.

Not the players, but their fans.

"I was thinking about them doing "The Chop," and I thought it was cool." said Mulligan, who grew up in the Bronx and transferred back home after spending two years at UMBC. "We went alligator hunting today."

With less than a minute left in 12th-seeded Manhattan's 75-60 victory yesterday at the RBC Center, Mulligan got to do his own version of Florida's favorite taunt, clapping his hands wide, hard and long.

The fifth-seeded Gators were too dazed to notice.

Luis Flores led the way in the tournament's first upset with 26 points, but Mulligan set the tone in the early when Manhattan went into halftime with a 36-29 lead.

"Coach [Bobby Gonzalez] told us to respect Florida, but not to be scared of them." said Mulligan, who took the ball inside and would finish with 17 points. "I was able to make things happen. Luis struggled early, but he's the best player in Manhattan history and we"re not going anywhere without him."

With Flores back on his game, Manhattan (25-5) will move on to tomorrow's second-round game in the East Rutherford Regional against fourth-seeded Wake Forest, which narrowly averted being upset later in the afternoon in a 79-78 victory over No. 13 seed Virginia Commonwealth.

The win for Manhattan ended an up, down and mostly disappointing season for Florida (20-11), which was ranked No. 1 in December (before losing at home to Maryland and at Louisville in the same week).

"I thought in every facet of the game, Manhattan out-competed us." said Florida coach Billy Donovan, visibly angry over his team's lack of effort.

The Jaspers were more patient on offense, breaking down the Gators" soft zone defense in building the lead to as many as 19 points in the second half.

Sophomore guard Anthony Rober son led Florida with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but forced a number of his shots. Sophomore guard Matt Walsh, playing on a bruised and blistered right foot, missed eight of 12 shots, including all five of his from three-point range.

Manhattan will now look forward to its first second-round NCAA tounament game since 1995, when the Jaspers lost to Arizona State after upsetting fourth-seeded Oklahoma. Yesterday's margin of victory was the largest in the NCAA tournament in school history.

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