Murphy 'a nightmare matchup' for defenses


Florida forward Erik Murphy posts up against LSU forward Jalen Courtney during the first half at Bridgestone Arena on Friday in Nashville, Tenn. Florida defeated LSU 80-58 to advance to Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinal game.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When it happened Wednesday, it didn't really faze Billy Donovan. In the Season of The Injury, all he could do was shrug.

But later that night, Donovan had to think about a game plan without Erik Murphy.

The senior forward had felt a sharp pain in his right knee during a drill early in Wednesday's practice. He was taken to the trainer's room and it was still bothering him. An MRI showed there was no structural damage, but Donovan still had to wonder if he'd be able to go Friday in Florida's first game of the SEC Tournament.

“I was concerned because our trainers were concerned,” Donovan said. “It was bizarre because he just kind of planted his foot and felt a sharp pain. I was thinking that if he couldn't go Thursday, we had to change what we planned to do.”

But after an MRI came up clean, Murphy could go through non-contact practice Thursday, and on Friday he was in the starting lineup wearing a blue sleeve on his right knee.

And then, he went out and showed why he is the X-factor in Florida's postseason.

Murphy did it from the outside and the inside. He made 5 of 7 from the 3-point line and 6 of 8 shots in the paint. His 27 points were a career high, and he scored them despite playing only 25 minutes.

And he grabbed 12 rebounds, securing his second straight double-double and only the third of his career.

“Shots were falling,” he said. “I'm just trying to have extra focus (rebounding), and I have just happened to have these games.”

You could point to a number of reasons why he had a career game Friday, including LSU's undersized guards and lack of a true power forward. Or maybe it's that the end of his college career appears to have brought a realization of what he's capable of doing.

“It took us awhile with him,” Donovan said. “He understands now what's happening in the switching action and who is on him.”

It seems simple enough. Little guy on you, take it inside. Big guy on you, take the 3.

It worked to perfection against LSU, a team that had won 10 of its last 15 games.

“He puts the defense on their toes,” said LSU's Charles Carmouche. “It's a tough matchup.”

“A nightmare matchup,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones.

Or maybe it was just that Murphy has improved as his career has gone along. He went from a guy who was thinking about transferring two years ago to a guy who is the crucial player for Florida in March. And even within this season, we have seen a jump in his toughness and ability with the ball around the basket.

Sometimes you watch him play and wonder why Florida doesn't make him the guy every time the ball comes down the court. Murphy could be a 25-point-a-game scorer if Florida decided to lean on him.

But that's not what Donovan is trying to accomplish. His goal is a team that moves the ball around and in and out and back around until there's a good shot. It doesn't matter who is taking it.

But when Murphy has it going like he did Friday, it's hard not to look for him.

“His 3s were more the other guys feeding him,” Donovan said.

Friday wasn't just Murphy's Show. But when he is playing like that, well, we remember when all of the college basketball experts were in love with Florida in January. That's what this game felt like.

It was over by the half and could have used a running clock in the last five minutes to get it over with. We remember those Gators. The 17-assists Gators. The 51-percent-shooting Gators. The rebounding, defending, winning the paint Gators.

Today will be a tougher test against a bigger and more physical team.

If Murphy plays like he did Friday, it won't matter.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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