ARLINGTON — Florida’s bid to return to the Final Four for the first time since claiming back-to-back titles in 2006-07 fell one game short for a third consecutive season.The Gators became the first team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to fall in the Elite Eight three seasons in a row. Florida lost to Butler in 2011, to Louisville in 2012 and to Michigan on Sunday.“This is a totally different feel than the last two. The Butler game was an overtime game; the Louisville game was a close game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “This one we didn’t play well enough or deserve to win the game. Michigan deserved this game. They played better than us. They deserved this win.”The Gators (29-8) found themselves down 13-0 just three minutes into the contest and trailed the entire game, at one point by as many as 25. Midway through the first half, Florida had converted just 3 of 16 shot attempts and trailed Michigan by 16 points.For seniors Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy, it was a sour way to end successful careers.“I’m honored to play for Coach Donovan; I think he’s the best coach in the country,” Boynton said. “I’ve played with great players, I’ve met some great people. There’s players that play college basketball and never make it to the NCAA Tournament, so I’m honored to make it to three straight Elite Eights.”Murphy wasn’t ready to reflect on his career in the locker room after the game. Rosario, who transferred to Florida from Rutgers in 2010, said they couldn’t overcome the horrible start.“It was tough opening the game like that and those guys striking like they did. This was not new to us,” Rosario said. “We knew they were very efficient on the offensive end, and I thought they did a great job overall.”Who’s this guy?The knock on Michigan heading into the NCAA Tournament was a lack of an inside presence.Freshman Mitch McGary, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward, dispelled that notion with his stellar play during the Wolverines’ run to their first Final Four since 1993.McGary, who averaged 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 17 minutes per game in the regular season, has become a force in the paint. He started just two games in the regular season but has averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in four NCAA Tournament starts.McGary was named to the all-region team. He followed his monster 25-point, 14-rebound performance against No. 1 seed Kansas with 11 points, nine rebounds, a career-high five steals and two blocks against Florida.“We knew what Mitch was capable of doing just by watching him all year in practice,” said Michigan guard Trey Burke, who was named South Region Most Outstanding Player. “Mitch has learned a lot, and he’s the type of guy that brings a lot of energy to our team. He runs the floor well and has a certain touch around the rim that a lot of big men don’t have.”Goose eggFlorida’s Erik Murphy did not enjoy his stay in North Texas.The senior forward, who arrived at the NCAA South Regional as the Gators’ leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and was their only All-SEC performer, scored just four points in two games.Murphy, a 6-foot-10 senior, struggled to four points on 2-of-7 shooting in Friday’s win over Florida Gulf Coast and missed all 11 shot attempts, nine of them in the paint, to go scoreless for the first time this season.“I thought, obviously, Erik had a very, very difficult game, and I feel bad for him being a senior, considering what he’s done throughout his career,” Billy Donovan said.
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JohnsonJarret