Florida conquers Demons in NCAA opener
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
AUSTIN, Texas — Florida didn't want its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance to wind up an early stay.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida vs. No. 11 seed Minnesota
What: NCAA Tournament, Round of 32
When: Sunday, 6:10 p.m.
So after some shaky moments defensively in the first half against the top-scoring offense in the nation, third-seeded Florida dialed up its defensive intensity in the second half Friday night against 14th-seeded Northwestern State.
The Gators held Northwestern State to just 19.2-percent shooting in the second half and 15 second-half points in their 79-47 win over the Demons at the Frank Erwin Center. The Gators held a team under 50 points for the 13th time this season.
For Florida's defense, it was a tale of two halves. The Gators allowed Northwestern State to shoot 54.2 percent from the floor in the first half and led just 40-32 at halftime.
“We didn't do as a good job getting stops as we did in the second half, coming out with that junkyard dog mentality,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “They weren't able to get anything they wanted, so we did a good job with that.”
Offensively, Florida had terrific balance, with four players reaching double figures for just the third time in its last 10 games. Erik Murphy led Florida with 18 points. Patric Young added 16 points and nine rebounds and Scottie Wilbekin had 11 points and four assists. Kenny Boynton scored eight of his 11 points in the second half.
The Gators (27-7) will face 11th-seeded Minnesota in Sunday's round of 32. Tipoff is set for 6:10 p.m. on TNT.
Florida worked the ball inside-out throughout the game Friday, outscoring undersized Northwestern State 44-22 in the paint. The Gators also outrebounded the Demons 43-26 and had 21 second-chance points.
“I missed a lot of bunnies I could have had, but I just focused on the next shot, be in position to score ahead, making the right play,” Young said.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said he thought it was important to keep pounding the ball inside throughout the game.
“The last thing you want to do is start jacking up 3s with them and create the ability for runouts in transition off long rebounds,” Donovan said.
Northwestern State (23-9), the nation's top scoring offense at 81 points per game, didn't appear intimidated by Florida in the first 20 minutes. The Gators did a good job breaking Northwestern State's press and were able to get back in transition on defense. But they still had defensive breakdowns early.
“We just came out with more focus in the second half,” Wilbekin said. “Coach D got onto us and we got onto ourselves a little bit because we knew we were capable of playing better defense than that.”
Northwestern State cut Florida's lead to 40-36 early in the second half. But the Gators created some breathing room with a 9-2 run, going up 49-38 on a pair of Boynton free throws. After a three-point play from Northwestern State forward Patrick Robinson cut Florida's lead to 49-41, the Gators put the game away with a 19-1 run. Murphy started the flurry with a big 3-pointer from the corner. A 3-pointer from Boynton extended UF's lead to 58-42, and a Murphy putback off a missed Young free throw put the Gators ahead 68-42.
Florida survived first-half foul trouble from its starting backcourt to build a 40-32 halftime lead. Boynton and Mike Rosario each picked up two first-half fouls, which limited their time on the floor. Boynton played just eight first-half minutes, while Rosario played 10 minutes.
With Rosario and Boynton out, Florida pounded the ball inside throughout the half. Murphy scored 11 of his points in the first half, with eight of the points coming on inside baskets. Young also had nine points in the first half as the Gators outscored Northwestern State 26-14 in the paint in the opening half.
Still, Northwestern State kept the game close throughout the half, dicing through UF's defense with quick guard penetration and good ball movement. After a dunk from Northwestern State center O.J. Evans cut Florida's lead to 34-30 with 3:49 left in the first half, the Gators closed the half with a modest 6-2 run. Murphy scored four of the points on inside baskets, and Wilbekin added a turnaround mid-range jumper.
Florida shot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half while attempting just seven 3-pointers. The Gators made 4 of 7 from beyond the arc, which included a pair from Rosario.
Boynton eclipses 2000
With 11 points against Northwestern State, Boynton became just the second player in school history to be recognized for scoring 2,000 or more points. Boynton now has 2,006 career points, 84 shy of school-record holder Ronnie Williams (2,090 points).
Former Florida guard and Gainesville native Vernon Maxwell scored 2,450 career points but had the final two seasons of his career stricken from the record books due to NCAA sanctions incurred during the Norm Sloan era.