INDIANAPOLIS – Lee Humphrey lingered outside the arc, determined to keep on shooting.
Swish. Swish. And make it three.
Appropriately enough, the long shot of Final Four was doomed by the long shot.
Humphrey hit three straight 3-pointers to start the second half and Florida brought George Mason back to reality Saturday night, ending the Patriots’ run through the NCAA tournament with a 73-58 victory.
In all, the Gators made a dozen shots from outside the 3-point stripe – tying a national semifinal record. Humphrey had six of them, leading Florida into Monday night’s championship game.
“Humpty was a monster tonight,” teammate Joakim Noah said. “When he’s hitting shots like that, we’re tough to beat.”
Too tough for 11th-seeded George Mason (27-8), the charming midmajor from the suburbs of northern Virginia, which knocked off the last two national champions and half of last year’s Final Four on its way to Indy. The feel-good Patriots simply couldn’t handle an immensely talented team that has arrived at the cusp of the school’s first national title a year ahead of schedule.
The youthful Gators (32-6) have probably been the most impressive team in the tournament, withstanding only one serious challenge in their five wins. They are winning by an average of 16 points a game in the postseason.
“We’re playing our best basketball all year and we’re a really tough team,” said Al Horford, one of four sophomores in the starting lineup. “You can’t stop us.”
Humphrey, a junior, is largely overshadowed by his younger teammates. He struggled in the first half, making only 1 of 5 shots – all of them from beyond the stripe.
But coach Billy Donovan told the guard to keep on shooting, and Humphrey responded with the three straight 3s that pushed the Gators to a 40-28 lead before 2 minutes were gone in the second half.
“He’s a silent assassin,” said another of the sophomores, Corey Brewer. “He doesn’t get a lot of hype. Nobody knows too much about him, but Lee Humphrey wins basketball games for the Florida Gators.”
The Gators are heading to the second title game in school history. They lost to Michigan State in the 2000 final.
Humphrey finished with 19 points and 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range. He was joined in the outside barrage by Brewer and Taureen Green, who hit three 3-pointers apiece for a team that went 12 of 25.
“I felt good tonight,” Humphrey said. “My teammates did a good job of moving the ball around. I got some good looks.”
By comparison, George Mason missed its first nine 3s and finished 2 of 11 – both coming too late to make any difference.
On the inside, the Gators were nearly as dominating. Noah – his father, former tennis star Yannick Noah, cheering him on from the stands – scored 12 points. Horford grabbed 13 rebounds.
Florida finished with a 40-27 edge on the boards.
“We came into the game feeling good about ourselves and feeling good about our chances,” said GMU coach Jim Larranaga, who tried to inspire his team with a pregame poem. “For some reason, we were never really able to establish our rhythm, either offensively or defensively. And Florida’s ability to get so many second shots really hurt us.”
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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