Florida uses defense to beat No. 6 Kansas State convincingly
Published: Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 7:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
SUNRISE - It didn't look promising early for Florida.
There was a seven-plus minute scoreless stretch to start the game, careless turnovers and some early uncontested layups allowed inside.
Yet by the time it ended, the Gators regrouped to put together their best defensive effort in more than 40 years. Florida rallied from a 12-point, first-half deficit to beat No. 6 Kansas State 57-44 in the Metro PCS Orange Bowl Classic.
Before a pro-Gator crowd of 13,489 at the BankAtlantic Center, Florida (8-2) held a ranked team under 50 points for the first time since beating No. 4 Tennessee 59-46 on Jan. 20, 1968.
"No one gave us a shot to win this game," Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We kept priding ourselves on defense, and I thought we played really good in the halfcourt. Our press was effective. We were wearing them down."
Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton earned Orange Bowl Classic MVP honors, scoring 12 of his team-high 15 points in the second half. Boynton scored eight straight points during a 10-0 run that extended Florida's lead to 50-33 with 6:16 remaining.
Boynton, who grew up in nearby Pompano Beach, came into the game having just made three of his previous 21 shots from the floor.
"It felt good, definitely just to get the shots to fall," said Boynton, who had 30 ticket requests for the game. "It's been two or three games where my shot's not falling. It definitely felt good to do it here."
Florida point guard Erving Walker added 13 points and three assists, and Vernon Macklin added 10 points. But the story of the game was defense. Florida held Kansas State to 27.3 percent shooting from the floor. That allowed the Gators to post their biggest comeback since rallying from down 17 points to beat Alabama on Feb. 14, 2007.
"We have been playing with fire as a team and this team we dealt with the fire," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "It would be hard to beat my 1985 junior varsity team shooting 20 percent."
Florida coach Billy Donovan notched his 17th career win against a top 10 team.
"I think it's a great win," Donovan said. "You get a chance to beat a team that's ranked this high, it certainly only helps. We had a great road win at Florida State. Ohio State, second game of the year, clearly they were the better team.
"This is a team that everybody has a lot of respect for, but at the end of the day it is one win."
Florida improved to 1-1 against ranked teams this season and is 3-8 in its last 11 games against ranked teams.
"I'm not going to take nothing away from them," Walker said. "They are a great team. But we want people to know we are a great team, too."
Down 23-20 at halftime, Florida took control of the game with an 8-0 run to start the second half. From there, Florida maintained its defensive intensity. Florida out-rebounded Kansas State 35-32, blocked seven shots and limited Kansas State's starting frontline to just five points.
"Florida is the most physical team that we've faced this season," Martin said. "They played our game and they beat us at our game."
Florida held its fifth straight opponent under 57 points.
"It's one thing to defend like we had the last four games," Donovan said. "And then this game against a highly ranked team, a highly respected team, I think you get tested."
Consider it a passed test. But there were some shaky moments on offense early. Florida failed to score on its first 11 offensive possessions, turning the ball over six times during that stretch. Walker finally got the Gators on the board with 12:59 left on a bank-shot, which brought a mock cheer from the crowd.
But Florida only trailed 9-2 at that point because the Gators maintained their edge on the defensive end of the floor.
"It took us a while," Parsons said. "In the first half they are a different kind of team on defense. They deny, they get after you. It took us a while to start running our offense. We were making silly turnovers the first 10 minutes of the game."
Florida trailed 20-8 when Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen hit a 3-pointer with 9:00 remaining in the half. But Florida closed the half with a 12-3 run. Sophomore Erik Murphy made Florida's first 3-pointer of the game with 3:30 left to cut Kansas State's lead to 23-18. Murphy then added a layup to trim the K-State lead to 23-20 at halftime.
"We really showed some resiliency on offense," Donovan said.
Said Walker: "There's always going to be some jitters in the beginning especially when you play a top-five team like that, but we know we can play with anybody. Kansas State is a great team, but we just got the better of them today."
In the second half, Donovan said Florida spaced the floor better and made better decisions. Florida, which had 13 turnovers in the first half, had just five turnovers in the second half.
"No question that first four minutes coming out (of the second half), our guys felt like, we're better than that," Donovan said. "I also told our guys at halftime, we're in good shape as long as we clean up (turnovers)."
FREE THROWS: A power outage during the first game between Miami-UCF delayed the opening tip of the Florida-Kansas State game for 55 minutes. UCF (10-0), under former Florida assistant Donnie Jones, beat Miami 84-78 in the opening game to remain undefeated.
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