The buzzer sounded, and Patric Young could only put his hands over his face.
Florida’s center was concealing tears of joy.
The top-seeded Gators — haunted by the ghosts of three consecutive Elite Eight failures — soared to the Final Four with power and physicality, exorcising their demons with a 62-52 win over upstart Dayton on Saturday night.
Young rebounded from a forgettable performance against UCLA, dominating the paint against the Flyers’ undersized frontcourt.
“It’s funny, when I started the game off strong one of our assistants told me, ‘Welcome Back,’ ” Young said.
“Last game I wasn’t really here. When that final buzzer rang, I was just in disbelief. It still hasn’t hit me yet that we’re in the Final Four.”
After tallying as many fouls (4) as points (4) in the Sweet 16, Young flexed his muscles, scoring 12 points (5-of-9), grabbing six rebounds, blocking four shots all while playing phenomenal post defense.
On Friday, frustrated by persistent questions about failure and consistency, Young vowed to “flush” his poor performance.
“We faced so many challenges, adversity and doubts, people not believing in us, that we’re not good enough we don’t have a enough talent, but we’ve weathered every storm that’s come at us,” a jubilated Young said.
“We’ve stuck through it and look, Coach [Billy] Donovan is cutting down the net right now.”
OWNING THE GLASS
For much of the second half, Florida’s offense looked as bad as its football counterparts, but even with a lid on the rim the Gators refused to relinquish their steady lead thanks to a dominating effort on the offensive glass.
“I thought the game was won with offensive rebounds,” Donovan said.
Florida grabbed 12 offensive boards, including seven during a three-minute stretch in the second half when Dayton had the ball for just 27 seconds.
“It was huge,” senior forward Will Yeguete said. “We couldn’t make anything, but we kept fighting.”
Overall, the Gators outrebounded the Flyers 37-26.
MAKING THE FREEBIES
The Gators struggled at the charity stripe all season, but they’ve been money at the free throw line in the Big Dance.
Florida hit 21-of-28 free throws Saturday night, highlighted by Scottie Wilbekin’s 8-of-10 effort. Sixth-man Dorian Finney-Smith, scoreless from the field, didn’t let his struggles affect his focus at the line, hitting 5-of-6 at the charity stripe.
“We’ve worked on free throws a lot lately,” Finney-Smith said. “I couldn’t hit a shot, but I just went up there with confidence.”
The Gators, a woeful No. 280 nationally at 66.3 percent, have shot 73.9 percent in four NCAA Tournament games.
THIS & THAT• Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was named to the all-region first team, while Wilbekin was honored as the South Region’s most outstanding player. In four tournament games, UF’s senior point guard tallied 67 points, 12 assists and just two turnovers.
• The Gators’ 36th win set a program record for most victories in a single season.
• Florida held its opponent under 70 points for the 11th game in a row, and 22 of its last 23. Dayton’s 52 points was a season-low.
• The Gators have won every 2014 NCAA Tournament game by double digits — the only team to do so.