Gators roll against No. 22 Texas A&M
Published: Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 5:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 5:11 p.m.
SUNRISE — Florida coach Billy Donovan reminded his players all week about Texas A&M's defensive prowess.
Yet in the end, behind another stellar homecoming from junior guard Kenny Boynton, the 13th-ranked Gators had few problems in an 84-64 win Saturday over No. 22 Texas A&M at the Orange Bowl Classic.
Before a mostly orange-and-blue clad crowd of 11,262 at the BankAtlantic Center, Florida seized control early. Texas A&M came into the game with the nation's fourth-ranked defense, allowing 51.4 points per game. But Florida (8-2) overwhelmed Texas A&M (8-2) from outside, going 7 for 18 from 3-point range in the first half to build a 50-25 lead.
More highlights from the first half included nine assists and 15 points off 10 Texas A&M turnovers.
“I thought the first half was the best we've played all year,” Donovan said.
Boynton scored a team-high 22 points to earn Orange Bowl MVP Classic honors for the second straight year. He finished 6 of 12 from 3-point range. A Pompano Beach native, Boynton was playing just around the block from American Heritage High School, where he starred for three seasons.
“It's always great to come back home and have a great performance,” Boynton said. “This is our third year here. The first year we lost, but this past year we won, so I think I played well overall, but I'm more happy with the win.”
Donovan also moved junior forward Erik Murphy back in the starting lineup. It paid dividends early. Murphy scored seven of Florida's first nine points on an inside layup, a mid-range jumper and 3-pointer.
“I don't think it makes much difference,” Murphy said of starting. “Even if I come off the bench, I try to come in ready. The last couple of games, I've been trying to get my legs back. I feel good right now.”
The 6-foot-10 Murphy missed three games with a bruised knee, then came off the bench against Arizona and Rider while forward Will Yeguete remained in the starting lineup.
“We do need Erik's ability to shoot the ball, stretch the defense, size, rebounding, do different things offensively. We needed to get him back in there,” Donovan said. “It was nothing that Will did wrong. Will actually did a great job in his absence.
“We've got to get the frontcourt done collectively as a group, and I thought Erik really played very, very well in the first half. He made some great moves inside. He knocked down some 3s. He did a good job defensively.”
Murphy finished with 13 points and five rebounds, providing some scoring production with sophomore center Patric Young in foul trouble. Bradley Beal and Erving Walker each scored 16 points for Florida.
Even with Young in foul trouble, the Gators held their own on the boards, out-rebounding Texas A&M 33-28. Florida has out-rebounded nine of its first 10 opponents this season.
Florida jumped to an early 20-4 lead, holding Texas A&M without a field goal until a layup from Khris Middleton with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and it was 20-4,” Murphy said. “I thought ‘We must be playing pretty good defense.'”
The Gators maintained that defensive intensity and hit a flurry of 3-pointers late in the first half. Boynton made deep 3-pointers on back-to-back trips down the floor, extending UF's lead to 45-23.
“When he gets his legs under him, he can get on a roll,” Donovan said.
Murphy then added a 3-pointer to put Florida up 48-25 with a minute remaining.
“We shared it. We passed it. We moved it,” Donovan said. “We had good inside-out action.”
Florida wasn't quite as crisp in the second half, allowing Texas A&M to shoot 48.4 percent from the field in the second half. Texas A&M cut Florida's lead to 73-61 with 2:12 left on an inside layup from Elston Turner. But Boynton came up with a big steal with 1:55 left and was fouled hard by Turner driving to the basket. It was ruled a flagrant foul, giving Florida two free throws and the ball.
Boynton made both free throws, and Walker then hit a 3-pointer to extend Florida's lead back to a comfortable 78-61 with 1:27 left.
“I thought it was an OK second half for us offensively at best, and we still scored 84 points,” Donovan said. “So we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
The Gators were much-improved at the free-throw line against Texas A&M, making 23 of 30. Florida came into the game shooting 59.6 percent from the line.
“How good of a team are we free throw shooting-wise? I know we are better than 59 percent,” Donovan said. “They've worked at it and they've put the time in. We just need to keep doing that.”
FREE THROWS: Florida improved to 9-2 in Orange Bowl Classic games. … In the opening game of the Orange Bowl Classic, Miami beat FAU 93-90 in double overtime. Florida transfer Kenny Kadji scored 21points, including three 3-pointers, to earn game MVP honors. Kadji said he transferred because he needed a “fresh start” and said he has no ill feelings toward UF or the coaching staff. … FAU played without Gainesville native Greg Gantt, who sat out the game with an ankle injury. Gainesville native Dennis Mavin started for FAU had no points, an assist and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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