Gators ride strong second half to win

Billy Donovan watched from the sideline as his team played an uninspired first half on Saturday and went to the locker room with a 33-31 lead over Air Force. It's nothing a stern halftime message couldn't change. The Florida head coach laid into his team at halftime of the Orange Bowl Classic, and they responded in the second half to run away with a 78-61 win over Air Force in Sunrise, Fla.

"It was a tale of two halves," Billy Donovan said on his post game radio show. "I was pretty disappointed with our team coming off the court at halftime because I just didn't think we were playing the right way. We weren't moving and passing like we needed to. Our missed shots bled into our attention on the defensive half of the floor. In the second half, we held them down. We had a great balance of inside and out."

Florida has struggled of finding a balance this season between unselfishness and players still working hard enough to create their shots. It's a difficult balance for any team to find, and Donovan is seeing it with his team now.

"For our team, we've got to get focused on what we need to do as a group to reach our potential, instead of guys worrying about how they're doing," Donovan said. "It's not a selfishness. It's just that they want to do well. There are so many things that we're missing out on because we're not alert and we're not in the moment or focused on what's going on because we're living in the past or the future."

The best sign for the Gators was that senior guard Kenny Boynton was able to hit some shots from the field. After recording a streak where he missed 30 of his previous 34 attempts from behind the three-point line, Boynton went 3-for-7 from the arc on Saturday and was second on the team with 14 points.

It didn't pull him completely out of the shooting slump that has plagued him through December, but it was a positive step after Boynton didn't have many of those to draw from in recent games.

"He knocked down a couple shots and got his legs under him, which was good," Donovan said.

The biggest concern from Saturday's game was the sluggishness that slowed Florida in the first half. It's hard for Donovan to figure out. The Gators hadn't played a game in a week and were rested from getting time off for Christmas to spend with their families.

It didn't look like it early in the game.

"I think the biggest thing for our team is that we look like a drained, exhausted basketball team," Donovan said. "It certainly can't be from fatigue because we had three days off for Christmas. A lot of it has to do with our schedule, as difficult and demanding as it has been."

Erik Murphy led all scorers with 21 points. He also led all players on the court with seven rebounds and four assists. It was a complete game for Murphy, shooting 8-for-10 from the field.

The Gators made a concentrated effort to get him involved in the offense, and he rewarded the team by hitting shots.

"The one thing I think is that our team helped him be able to inside and out," Donovan said. "We were able to get the ball to him in the post with plays around the basket. We found him on some three-point shots he knocked down. He did a really good job of offensive rebounding. That wasn't the case for him against Kansas State."

Air Force guard Michael Lyons came into the game as the leading scorer in the Mountain West. As it usually means for the opponent, it's the perfect matchup for Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin. The junior held Lyons to seven points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field.

"He played too many minutes but did a phenomenal job on Lyons," Donovan said. "The one thing I love about Scottie is that regardless of what's going on for him on offense, he really is a committed defender that does his job. He's a great example for the rest of our team for when things aren't going well, there's still an area you can play passionately and play hard."

Fightin Gators Top Stories