Florida advances to SEC Tournament final

Kenny Boynton and the Gators needed this. The senior guard's shot has been inconsistent throughout his final year at Florida, and it looked like that trend was going to continue on Saturday -- until the second half. Boynton was held scoreless in the first half and scored all of his team-high 16 points in the second half, pushing Florida into the SEC Tournament final with a 61-51 win over Alabama.

"Coach did a great job at halftime of challenging us as a team to come out with energy," Kenny Boynton said. "My teammates found me in transition. I didn't get more aggressive or anything. The floor just opened up more."

The stat sheet was empty for Boynton at halftime -- no points, no rebounds, no assists. He scored just two points in Florida's blowout win over LSU on Friday afternoon but did record seven assists. In the first half on Saturday against Alabama, there was no contribution except on the defensive end, as Boynton went 0-for-3 from the field and missed two three-pointers.

The second half was a different story.

Boynton went 6-for-9 from the field and went 2-for-4 from behind the three-point line to earn all 16 of his points. The senior guard went on an 11-0 run by himself midway through the second half that brought the Gators back in the game.

"I was really happy for Kenny, to see him bounce back and continue to build confidence," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He played with that fire that I see him play with so often. He took good shots."

Before the run, the Gators were facing a 37-29 deficit. When it was over, Boynton alone brought the Gators back and gave them a 40-37 lead.

Florida didn't look back from there. Boynton scored five points more the rest of the way, as Patric Young was aggressive in the paint, Casey Prather hit a putback and Scottie Wilbekin hit his free throws to ice the game.

But none of it would've happened without Boynton.

"As a team, we needed that spark," Mike Rosario said. "You've got to want to be in the struggle. This was a grind it out game. Guys knew Kenny needed to step up for us. He took on that challenge. When that run happened, it fed off positive energy to our teammates. Everyone on our team embraced that."

The game had a lot of similarities to the first meeting between the two teams in Gainesville on March 2. Alabama stretched a lead to eight points in that game before Florida tightened up on the defensive end and started to attack the rim. The Crimson Tide held a ten-point lead just four minutes into the second half on Saturday, but it was Boynton's run that erased the deficit.

The Gators won the rebounding battle 28-25 against a bigger front line, and Florida turned the ball over just four times.

The issues in the first half came on the offensive side of the ball, and the box score showed up. Donovan has harped on the Gators getting to have a high number of assists for the offensive to click as well as it can, but they had just nine assists while the team shot 44.2% from the field. Florida shot just 17.6% (3-for-17) from behind the three-point line.

"Our assists were not high, but we tried to play the right way the entire game," Donovan said.

The Gators move on to the SEC Tournament final at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday against Ole Miss. Florida beat Ole Miss by 14 points in the regular season.


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