Florida dominates second half, beats MTSU 66-45

Turning up the intensity in the second half, No. 10 Florida Gators basketball (3-0) powered its way past the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-1) on Sunday afternoon, capturing a 66-45 victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, FL.

Junior forward Will Yeguete put together another strong performance for the Gators, leading the way with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. He was complimented by senior guard Kenny Boynton, who scored 18 second-half points and finished with a team-high 20 on 5-of-12 shooting (3-for-8 from downtown).

Florida and Middle Tennessee traded hoops throughout the first half as both teams struggled shooting the ball and maintaining possession. Six-straight points by the Gators gave them a 28-22 advantage with 1:22 left, but UF missed three-of-four free throws down the stretch and led just 29-26 at the half.

Yeguete finished the first 20 minutes with 10 points and eight rebounds as junior center Patric Young sat for Florida with two early fouls. He was 4-for-6 from the field while the rest of the Gators were 7-for-21 early in the contest.

Florida opened the second half with renewed energy and an explosive 14-2 run – highlighted by an alley-oop from redshirt senior G Mike Rosario to junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin – that gave the Gators a 15-point lead with 11:40 to play.

Faced with a potential blowout, the Blue Raiders scored five-straight to cut their deficit to 10 points with six minutes to play.

Florida ensured that it got back on top quickly, however, as Boynton grabbed a rebound and engineered a fast break with a dish to Rosario. He followed that play up with three big treys and another layup down the stretch, providing the Gators with a game-high 23-point lead late in the contest.

UF outplayed MTSU in almost every area, winning the rebounding battle 31-23 and turnover margin 12-13 while committing 10 fewer fouls.

Florida will play its second of three games in six days when it hosts Savannah State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on Sun Sports or FOX Sports Florida.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Wilbekin played his first game of the season on Sunday after missing the first three games with a suspension for an unspecified reason. He was as remorseful when speaking with the media as he was when Donovan said the two had a conversation early in the week.

“I just learned, when you make mistakes, it catches up to you,” Wilbekin said. “You’ve got to move past it, now, it’s over and done with. I’ve got to focus on the rest of the season. … I just made mistakes, stuff you can’t do. I’m not going to do it anymore. … I’m not too much of a prideful guy, but it was really hard to see the team do great because it proves that, I’m not bigger than the team and no other player is bigger than the team. We can win without anyone on the team.”

» After attempting to shoot the lights out in the first half – and failing to do so – the Gators focused on putting the ball in the post and getting points on the board the traditional way. Florida succeeded to that end and also wound up hitting some open three-pointers late to pull ahead for the big victory.

“We really made a huge emphasis to say, OK, if they are going to put all that pressure out there, we’re left playing one-on-one in the post,” Donovan said. “I think we established that very, very early in the second half.”

» Boynton started slow, but his 18 second-half points gave him 20 for the game and also placed him sixth on Florida’s all-time scoring list just a few points ahead of Tampa native Dwayne Schintzius. Boynton’s 1,641 points put him 37 away from Stacey Poole (1,678), who is currently fifth on the all-time list.

“I think Kenny Boynton is going to go down in this program, forget about scoring, just from a winning standpoint as one of the better players to ever play here,” Donovan said after the game. “Before he got here we went to two NITs. Since we’ve gone to three straight NCAA Tournaments and two Elite Eights and Kenny has been a big part of that.”

» Though Wilbekin returned, junior F Casey Prather missed his fourth-straight contest after suffering a concussion in consecutive weeks during practice. Donovan said that Prather has “done pretty well on his baseline tests and is “in good shape” to potentially return this week.

“He’s not having any headaches right now, which is now the process of him going through working out, running, lifting, in practice with no contact, then being cleared. My guess right now if he would continue to go on this pace would be, not going to play Tuesday night but I think he has a great chance to be back on Friday [against UCF],” he said.

* Quotes courtesy of The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway.

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