Coach Billy Donovan's basketball squad continued its impressive early-season play with a solid 68-52 win over Florida State in the O'Dome Tuesday night, improving to 4-0 on the year while handing the Seminoles (3-1) their first loss before a season-high crowd of 11,239.
"It was a good win for us against what I think is a very, very good team," Donovan said.
The Gators used their 2-2-1 press to force 16 first-half FSU turnovers and, after the 'Noles' Chris Singleton scored his team's first 10 points in helping his team take an early 10-6 lead, Florida went on a 33-9 run the rest of the half to take a surprising 20-point lead at the break, 39-19, much to the delight of the large and loud crowd who gave them a standing ovation as they headed to the locker room.
The Seminoles responded with a 19-4 run to open the second half, closing to within 43-38 with 12 minutes remaining in the game while quieting the crowd. But senior Dan Werner drew an offensive foul with the 'Noles in position to cut the lead to three, and the momentum swung back to UF.
Tyus, who knocked down several nice mid-range jumpers, hit one from 15 feet to extend the lead to seven, and point guard Erving Walker, who gave FSU's backcourt fits all night with his quickness, then made back-to-back layups off steals – one by himself and another by Ray Shipman – to put UF back up by double digits, 49-38, as the crowd erupted. Three more points from Tyus on a free throw and a layup off a great pass from Chandler Parsons extended the lead to 14, and freshman Kenny Boynton, who was held scoreless in the first half, converted a layup on a fast break while being fouled and swished the free throw to cap a 12-0 run that gave UF a 55-38 lead with 7:19 left that basically put the game out of reach.
"We got within five and had three straight possessions where we made bad decisions, and they ran down and scored on all three of them," said FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton. "That happened at a critical part of the game, and it really took the wind out of our sails."
"During halftime, we were talking about how they were a good team and they were going to come back and make it close, so we knew we were going to have to respond," Werner said. "This is definitely the biggest win we've had in the last three years."
Florida got great balance in scoring, with Tyus, Walker, and Boynton all sharing team-high honors with 13 points apiece. Shipman and Parsons added nine and eight points, respectively, off the bench, while starting center Vernon Macklin and Werner each had six.
Tyus led all players with eight rebounds, with Parsons adding seven.
For the fourth straight game, UF rode its defense to victory. The Gators held FSU to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field, the fourth time in four games they have held their opponent under 40 percent.
Offensively, they were solid as well, connecting on 46.3 percent (25-of-54) from the field. They did lose the rebounding battle by one, 38-37, after enjoying a surprising 20-11 advantage on the boards in the first half, but Donovan said that overall he was very pleased with how his team handled FSU's post players, especially how the 6-10 Macklin more than held his own against FSU's 7-1 sophomore Solomon Alabi, who finished with just eight points and six rebounds.
"I thought Vernon played very well tonight," noted Donovan. "He was a presence under the basket."
FSU guard Derwin Kitchen, a former UF commitment from Jacksonville, led all scorers with 15 points, while Singleton was right behind with 14.
UF will have little time to savor the win. The Gators next head to Atlantic City, N.J., where this weekend they will be one of four teams vying for the title of the 2009 Legends Classic.
Florida will have a huge challenge advancing to the championship game as they take on unbeaten and second-ranked Michigan State in a semifinal matchup Friday night. The winner will take on the winner of the other semifinal between UMass and Rutgers Saturday night after the two losers meet for consolation honors.
"This is a big weekend for us," said Walker. "This is why we've been working so hard in practice. We want to prove to everybody that we are a good team."
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