Posted: 3:26 p.m. Saturday, March 16, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Remember when Florida overcame a second half deficit and won a game by double digits against Alabama by going inside and locking down on defense? So do the Gators: They've done that exact thing twice in two weeks, and did it on Saturday, in a 61-51 win over the Crimson Tide to advance to the 2013 SEC Tournament.
And this time, Kenny Boynton was the catalyst.
Florida's embattled five-star senior went scoreless in the first half, and failed to register a rebound, assist, steal, or block. His only non-scoring contribution was two rebounds in the second half, but he poured in 16 points, 11 consecutively, as Florida flipped a switch and flipped back to the script of its previous win against Alabama. All 16 of Boynton's points came on a 23-5 run that turned a 10-point deficit at 37-27 in Alabama's favor into an eight-point Florida lead at 50-42.
Boynton's 16 points tie a 16-point game against Auburn as his best scoring output since he dumped in 18 against Mississippi State in January, and came largely on the sorts of aggressive knifing moves to the basket he's best at, with only two of his six threes on the day splashing down. They should provide a huge boost of confidence to Florida, and help a fan base that has had its love-hate relationship with Boynton swing toward hate in recent weeks come back to speaking terms with one of Florida's best and most maddening players.
Another of those players, Patric Young, had his own excellent day in Boynton's shadow against the Tide, putting up 13 points and pulling down nine boards against a tall, strong front line. And the 29 points from Boynton and Young helped offset quiet days from Erik Murphy (six points on seven shots) and Scottie Wilbekin (four points on four). Mike Rosario added 10, including a great and-one, but was the only other Florida player in double figures.
The Gators, meanwhile, recorded their 25th win and 25th double-digit win of the 2012-13 season, and held Alabama to 14 points in the final 16:04 of play, turning in yet another stretch of suffocation from a defense that has made toggling between suffocation and strangulation one of the best ways to describe it.
Florida will meet the winner of the second SEC Tournament semifinal at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and with Vanderbilt and Mississippi in that semifinal, it will be seeing a team that it dominated. This augurs well for Billy Donovan's attempt to win his fourth SEC Tournament, and sweep the SEC's regular season and postseason titles for the first time since 2007.
For them, and for Boynton, a third win at a neutral site in three days would do much to silence the critics.