Facing a 10 point deficit and elimination from the SEC Tournament, the Florida men’s basketball team stormed back in the second half to roll the fourth seeded Alabama Crimson Tide 61-51 and advance to the finals of the conference tournament against Ole Miss on Sunday.
Senior Kenny Boynton led the Gators (26-6) with 16 points, all of which were scored in the second half on a 6 of 12 day shooting from the field. Patric Young finished in double figures with 13 points and 9 rebounds, as did Mike Rosario who tallied 10 total points.
Guard Trevor Releford led a balanced Alabama (21-12) attack with 12 points, while Trevor Lacey put up 11 points coupled with five rebounds, tied for the team lead on the afternoon.
For the second time this season against Alabama, the Gators trailed by 10 points in the second half. Aided by a hot streak by Boynton, Florida pushed the pace and put together a magnificent 20-3 run with 15 points unanswered that spanned approximately six minutes in the middle of the half, a rally that flipped the game from a 37-27 margin in favor of Alabama to a 47-40 UF lead with nine minutes to go.
Forward Patric Young says UF’s perseverance in the second half was the key to victory and the mark of a great team.
The game began as expected, a defensive struggle between two of the SEC’s toughest scoring defenses. A strong nine point effort off the bench by forward Nick Jacobs boosted Alabama to a 28-25 halftime cushion. Florida forced five Crimson Tide turnovers, but shot merely 1of 8 from 3-point range and 11 of 27 from the field, compared to an 11of 20 mark by Alabama.
Boynton was 0 of 3 in the first half and held scoreless for the first 25 minutes of the game. After failing to score away from the free throw stripe for 7:16 in a streak eerily similar to last week’s loss at Kentucky, the Gators hammered the throttle and pulled away over the rest of the half, stretching the lead to 10 and securing the win. Boynton was responsible for 11 straight points and 13 of the 20 points scored during the 20-3 streak that broke the game open. Florida outscored the Crimson Tide 36-23 in the second half.
Gator head coach Billy Donovan says he was especially pleased with Boynton’s efforts in the game.
Boynton, Florida’s second all-time leading scorer, says that the breakout in the second half was all about making the most of opportunities.
Florida’s 10 point margin of victory is the lowest spread all season, edging out Florida’s 12 point win over Alabama on March 2, a game in which the Gators battled from 10 down in the second half and emerged victorious courtesy of a game-saving 19-2 run.
Alabama’s NCAA Tournament hopes have taken a left hook to the body. Although the Tide were contenders for the SEC regular season crown in the final week of the season, a mundane résumé and failure to close out Saturday’s game could hinder their chances for a second March Madness birth in a row.
With the win, Florida prepares to square off in the final game of the tournament against Ole Miss, meeting the Rebels for the second time this year. In the previous meeting between the two teams on February 16, the Gators notched a 78-64 victory over the 16th ranked Rebels at the O’Connell Center. Third seeded Ole Miss defeated the 10th seeded Vanderbilt Commodores in the second SEC semi-final on Saturday, 64-52.
Coverage of Sunday’s final begins at 12:25 on Country 103-7 The Gator and continues through tipoff at 1pm.