Hot Start Keys Florida Win

It would have been hard to draw up a better way for No. 13 Florida to start the game. The offense poured in 50 points in the first half against an Aggies defense that was suffocating before Saturday. The Gators were just as tough on defense, forcing ten first half turnovers, as Florida never trailed on its way to an 84-64 win over No. 22 Texas A&M.

"It was the best first half we've played all year," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said on his postgame radio show. "We were sound, shared the ball and our offense was clicking. We did a terrific job on defense. We came out with great focus and great intensity."

Coming into Saturday's game, Texas A&M had allowed just 51.4 points per game. The Gators put up 50 in the first half. They did it with an inside-out offense that saw guards Kenny Boynton and Brad Beal get hot from behind the three-point line.

The defense was just as sharp. Donovan mixed up the defensive schemes, especially in the full court press, as Florida used its athleticism to keep the Aggies from getting set in their half court offense. Patric Young got into foul trouble, but instead of letting Texas A&M use its advantage in depth down low, the Gators used their speed to create issues.

"We just needed to change up our defensive coverage," Donovan said. "They have good frontcourt players, and we talked before the game about trying to do some things trapping and pressing them to disrupt their flow, so they could never get into their offense and pound the ball inside. Our press and what we did defensively in the first half took them out of flow. That really was a big advantage."

Young ended the game with four fouls. His first foul came with just 2:40 into the game, and Donovan immediately brought him to the bench to avoid foul trouble. He ended up playing just nine minutes in the first half.

"I was hoping we could get Patric through the first half with maybe a foul, but in a game like this, you worry about it because you know they have a number of frontcourt guys," Donovan said. "He never really got going. Pat is a terrific player and such a team guy."

While playing just four miles away from his high school, Kenny Boynton went off. The guard hit six three-pointers on the night and led the Gators with 22 points. He made just one shot inside the three-point line while four of his three-pointers came in the first half.

"I've been around a lot of guys that get home and with the distractions, they can't handle it," Donovan said. "Kenny is one of those guys that gets back here two years in a row and has played well. He shot the ball well and let the game come to him. He didn't try to get going early, just found some shots and good things happens for him tonight."

Another positive for Florida came at the free throw line. The Gators came into the season as the 317th team of 338 in the country in free throw shooting, making only 59.6%.

On Saturday, the Gators went 23-for-30 (76.7%) from the free throw line. It's only one game, but Donovan was optimistic about what he saw.

"We made some steps there," Donovan said. "Brad (Beal) got us off to a good start. For the most part, the team did a nice job shooting free throws."

For as good as the first half was, Donovan was equally upset with the second half. He was his team at halftime that Texas A&M would start the second half with energy, and that's exactly what they did. The Aggies scored the first two baskets of the second half and Donovan immediately took a timeout to refocus them.

It can become a lesson for the team going forward.

"As every coach, you get up by 20 points and you're worried. I was really disappointed in our maturity level coming out of the locker room. I've been around the game long enough where I was an assistant coach at Kentucky with 15 minutes left we were down by 31 and won the game.

"I've seen enough things happen. We've got to do a better job. It's a great learning experience for us to learn that when you're up by nine, ten or eleven, that can be washed away pretty quickly."

After the Gators land in Gainesville Saturday night, they'll be forced to refocus in a hurry. Florida gets one day of preparation before Mississippi Valley State comes to town on Monday at 7 p.m.

The Gators will also host Florida State on Thursday at 7 p.m. before getting a break for Christmas.

"Quick turnaround playing one Monday and then again on Thursday," Donovan said. "We've got to get back and get ready for the next one."

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