Behind impressive performances from the team’s two biggest players, the three-seed Florida Gators (27-7) outscored the 14-seed Northwestern State Demons (23-9) by 24 points in the second half on the way to a 79-47 victory on Friday evening during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Florida advanced by holding Northwestern State’s offense, ranked No. 1 in the nation at 81.0 points per contest, to just 15 points in the second half and 47 for the game.
The Gators’ third-ranked defense, coupled with 34 points and 17 rebounds combined from senior forward Erik Murphy and junior center Patric Young, pushed UF to a dominant victory at the Erwin Center in Austin, TX.
With the game in a frenetic pace and the score tied at 17 in the early going, Florida opened up its first big lead of the contest with an 11-4 run capped by a three-pointer from senior guard Kenny Boynton that put it ahead 28-21 midway through the first half.
A free throw by Young followed by a trey from redshirt senior G Mike Rosario extended the Gators’ advantage to eight points.
Though UF kept knocking on the door of pushing its lead up to double digits, Northwestern State answered with big shots that kept Florida within its sights.
A quick 5-2 stretch got the Demons within four points of the Gators with four minutes to play, but Florida scored the final four points of the half on layups from junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and Murphy to retake an eight-point lead before the break.
Boynton (eight minutes) and Rosario (10) saw limited action in the first half as each got into early foul trouble. Head coach Billy Donovan was upset with UF’s defense in the opening 20 minutes but thought the fresh legs of his two starting guards would give the Gators some juice to open the second half.
Florida had its lead cut in half at the start of the second half after allowing consecutive baskets but answered with a 9-2 run to jump ahead by 11 with 14:20 remaining.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Northwestern State’s Patrick Robinson cut UF’s lead back to eight, but a trio of three-point plays – including treys from Murphy and Boynton and three free throws from freshman G Michael Frazier II – were part of an explosive 19-1 run that pushed Florida’s lead up to 26 points at 68-42 with 6:37 to play.
In the middle of the Gators’ dominant run, which was part of a 28-6 scoring stretch, Wilbekin made the highlight play of the evening as he threw an alley-oop from just over the timeline that junior F Casey Prather slammed home.
The Demons went 6:28 without a point and 7:05 without a field goal before finally finding the bottom of the net and quelling the thrashing that was being handed to them.
Florida extended its advantage to a game-high 32 points by scoring the final six points of the contest and moved on to the round of 32.
Murphy excelled for the Gators by posting a game-high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting (2-of-3 from downtown) to go along eight big rebounds. Young registered 16 points and a game-high nine boards but went just 4-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Boynton and Wilbekin each chipped in 11 points, the latter also dishing four assists, and junior F Will Yeguete matched Murphy with eight rebounds of his own. Boynton became the second player in program history to surpass 2,000 points for his career.
Florida outshot Northwestern State from the field (.475-.360) and beyond the arc (.333-.188) and outrebounded the underdogs 43-26 (16-6 on the offensive glass). The Gators outscored the Demons off turnovers (12-7, in the paint (44-22) and on second chances (21-5) while using 10 steals to force 15 total turnovers.
UF has advanced to the round of 32 for the third time in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances. Florida will take on either six-seed UCLA or 11-seed Minnesota on Sunday at a yet-to-be-determined time.
Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press