In a pair of meetings over the last three weekends, the Alabama Crimson Tide have led the No. 11/13 Florida Gators midway through the second half only to see Florida go on a late run and pull off a double-digit victory.
The one-seed Gators (26-6) completed their mission once again on Saturday in the semifinals of the 2013 SEC Tournament, using a 22-5 second-half run to complete a come-from-behind 61-51 victory over the four-seed Crimson Tide (21-12).
Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton, marred in a massive slump in the tournament, broke out in a big way for the Gators. He scored 11-straight points as part of a 15-0 run that took his team from a 10-point deficit with 16 minutes remaining to a five-point lead with 11:19 left in the contest.
“I was really, really happy for Kenny, personally, just to see him bounce back and to continue to have confidence and belief in himself and to play with that fire that I see him play with so often,” head coach Billy Donovan said.
UF matched Boynton’s intensity from there and parlayed his play into a victory that advances Florida to the finals of the SEC Tournament on Sunday at 1 p.m. against either three-seed Ole Miss or 10-seed Vanderbilt. The Gators are looking to win the fourth SEC Tournament Championship in program history.
“When you see our team get excited – our team loves Kenny Boynton – and when people watch him and the ball doesn’t go in the basket, it’s very easy to point fingers and be critical. But I would say that maybe of anybody on our team, Kenny Boynton is truly loved inside of our team because he’s a great teammate,” Donovan said.
“He does want to win. He wants to make every shot he takes. He doesn’t intentionally try to miss, but he’s gone through a little bit of a tough shooting period. And I think as a coach, when you can see somebody’s intentions every day, his intentions are always good. He’s about the team. He wants to play well. He wants to compete. He’s not selfish, doesn’t take a ton of bad shots.
“And for me, I was personally very, very happy for him, and when he’s getting — when he’s making some shots, it livens up our team because our team looks to him in a lot of ways. When he’s got that kind of swagger and that bounce to his step, it can’t all be on him. They all got to step up and assume their own responsibilities, but I always think that that’s a sign of how much a guy is excited when the guy starts to make a couple shots, everybody gets excited for him.”
Read the rest of the Florida-Alabama game story…after the break!
The teams duked it out at the start of the contest, both playing quality defense while struggling to find their shot in the early going. Florida led the for the first 10 minutes of the game but coughed up its advantage after Alabama put together a 5-0 run to jump ahead 13-12 with 9:22 left in the first half. UF and UA continued trading leads down the stretch with the Crimson Tide finally breaking through with consecutive baskets to spot themselves a 28-25 lead at the break.
The Gators were just 11-for-27 from the field and 1-for-8 from downtown in the first half.
A halftime speech from Donovan changed UF’s fortunes.
“Just know that we’re playing for something and we don’t want to leave today, loss or win, knowing that we didn’t leave everything on the floor,” said redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario recalling what Donovan said in the locker room. “That was the message that he basically gave us as a team. He knew how great we can be and especially being in situation that’s we were like down at halftime, he felt that we weren’t showing that perseverance and that relentless effort that we always give him. I just feel like the whole team just took on that message in a positive way.”
Alabama opened the second half by outscoring Florida 9-2 and taking a game-high 10-point lead. The Gators went without a field goal for 7:08 spanning halftime and including first 5:34 of the second half.
Suddenly, Boynton came out of nowhere and found his rhythm, exploding by scoring 11-straight points as part of a 15-0 run that put Florida back ahead 42-37 with 11 minutes to play. He followed up a pair of free throws – his points of the game – with a layup, three-pointer and two more layups, personally moving the Gators from a seven-point deficit to a three-point lead in a matter of minutes.
Florida extended its run to 22-5 and made 8-of-10 shots in that stretch – including Boynton’s second three – to go up eight with eight minutes to play. UF eventually increased its advantage to a game-high 10 with three minutes remaining as junior forward Casey Prather put back a missed three by senior F Erik Murphy.
The Crimson Tide got back within seven points of the Gators, but Florida made three free throws down the stretch to increase its lead back to 10 points and pick up yet another double-digit victory over Alabama.
“These guys came back and they fought in the second half and they battled when things maybe weren’t going great,” Donovan said. “I thought they showed some resiliency and some fight in them to kind of battle through the game because we didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, but I thought we had a lot of really, really good looks and that happens.
“I think this time of year, a lot of times it’s not always a team that can play the prettiest or it comes the easiest. Sometimes it’s got to be a will and a fight internally to try to make some things happen. I thought our defense continued to get better and that was encouraging to me to see these guys battle and fight.”
Boynton led all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but he definitely had some help from his teammates. Junior center Patric Young struggled in the early going but was all effort in the second half, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals.
“Guys knew Kenny needed to step up for us in the second half, and I felt that he took on that challenge and that run happened and when that run happened, it just fed off positive energy to all our teammates and I thought everyone on the team embraced that,” Rosario said.
Rosario also scored in double digits with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting. Murphy filled up the box score with six points, five boards and three assists, and junior F
Though the Crimson Tide outshot the Gators from the field (.452-.442) and three-point land (.500-.176), Florida got things together at the charity stripe and hit 12-of-18 free throws. UF also won the rebounding battle 32-31 and grabbed 13 offensive boards.
Florida now awaits the victor of the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game, which will determine its opponent on Sunday at 1 p.m. in a game that will air live on ABC. The Gators are looking to sweep the conference titles for the 2012-13 season.