ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — (AP) – Chomp on this, Michigan State.
Florida craves more than another NIT this season. The Gators aspire to wildly mob each other on the court, and dance and hop their way toward the locker room in the NCAA tournament – just how they celebrated after stunning the No. 2 Spartans.
Erving Walker stepped way back to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:56 left and Florida hung on to knock off the Spartans 77-74 on Friday night in the Legends Classic and show it can be a tourney team again.
"I'm just so happy these guys could experience a night like tonight against a terrific team," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to consecutive national titles in 2006 and '07 before settling for two straight appearances in the NIT the last two seasons.
The Spartans (4-1) were sloppy for 40 minutes and missed their chance to give coach Tom Izzo a record 341 victories at the school. Durrell Summers missed two last-gasp 3-point attempts in the final minute that could have forced the game into overtime. Izzo will get another chance Saturday against Massachusetts in the consolation game.
"I'm shocked we were even in the game the way we turned it over," Izzo said.
For a program known for producing some gaudy numbers under Izzo – five Final Four appearances since 1999 – the Spartans had some ugly ones in their first loss. They hacked the Gators with bad fouls down the stretch and committed a 23 turnovers. The Spartans also missed eight of 10 3-point attempts.
"I can't really say we weren't ready to play because we were," Izzo said.
Walker finished with 12 points and seven assists to help the Gators (5-0) remain undefeated. Walker hit his 3 from beyond NBA range in front of Florida's bench for a 72-71 lead.
"We just wanted to prove to people we could be mentioned in the same breath as them," Walker said.
Chandler Parsons had 14 points and Alex Tyus added 11 for Florida. The Gators will play Rutgers in the championship game.
The Gators only went 5 of 24 on 3s – but Walker hit the big one after missing his first five attempts.
Walker added two more free throws to make it 74-71, then made 1 of 2 on the next possession to keep the lead at three.
Lucas tossed in a wild layup with 23 seconds left that sliced the lead to one. But the final minutes were filled with missed shots from the line – the Spartans finished 10 of 14 – including two clanks from Summers.
Dan Werner made two free throws with 17 seconds left to seal the win. Florida was 22 of 25 from the line.
When Summers' second 3-point attempt fell short, Florida rushed the court and celebrated a big win in front of hundreds of silenced Spartans fans. A victory like this was a long time coming for Donovan's program.
"I think we found out a lot more about us," Donovan said. "We have a chance to really improve and grow from this. The guys in the locker rooms are the ones who really did all the work."
The Spartans won the 2000 national championship against the Gators for Izzo's lone national championship. Ten seasons later, it was Florida's time to get the W.
"At this point, I think that these guys have put the work in," Donovan said. "You feel like there's a commitment and a focus that they're doing that. I think that was something that was really missing from our team the last two years, really understanding what it was about maturity-wise."
Donovan still has reason to be cautious: Florida is 5-0 for the fourth time in five years. Izzo praised a Florida defense that made a habit in the first half of snaring bad or long passes. Walker and Parsons each had three steals and the Gators finished with 12 overall.
Kalin Lucas scored 20 points for the Spartans. Draymond Green had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Delvon Roe and Summers each scored 13 points for the Spartans.
Izzo was trying to pass mentor and predecessor Jud Heathcote, who was inducted this week into the National Collegiate Hall of Fame, as Michigan State's winningest coach. When Heathcote retired, Izzo was his hand-picked successor.
Izzo had already matched him with one national championship apiece. He remains tied with Heathcote at 340 wins.
"There's no, win one for Izzo," Izzo said. "It's, win for the team and that's it. This is not like Bobby Knight. Everybody was anticipating it because he was going to break a record. I'm breaking 340 wins. Big deal."