UF (9-3) came out of the gates strong and took control from the opening tip. Junior Alex Tyus continued his hot hand of late, scoring the game's first seven points en route to a game-high 20 points and just missed a double-double with a team-high nine rebounds. Freshman guard Kenny Boynton enjoyed one of his better shooting performances of the season, scoring 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field including a solid 4-for-7 effort from 3-point range. Junior Vernon Macklin, meanwhile, also had one of his best games of the year, scoring a season- and career-high 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting while adding five rebounds and a block.
"This game was very important for our confidence," Boynton said. "We lost three games, and two of them we felt like we shouldn't have lost. Tonight, we just wanted to come back and get a win."
The Gators never trailed in the contest and took a commanding 39-18 halftime lead when Boynton banked in a 35-foot shot that just beat the buzzer. But to their credit, the Eagles (2-11) refused to fold and used some stellar 3-point shooting (10-of-22) to hang tough, actually closing within single digits at 69-60 with 39.5 seconds remaining only to watch the Gators score the last seven points of the game and win by 16.
"Florida came out and we caught them at a bad time," American head coach Jeff Jones said. "They were plenty fired up after their last few games and we were not able to withstand their pressure, both offensively and defensively. It is a positive that as poorly as we played in the first half, our guys continued to compete and at least we made it a contest in the second half."
Florida shot a solid 45.2 percent (28-of-62) from the floor in the game and was 6-of-15 (40 percent) from beyond the arc. The Gators also turned the ball over only eight times, a season low, and tied their season high in steals with 12.
The downside, however, was the second-half defense. After holding the Eagles to just 4-of-20 (20 percent) from the field in the first half, including limiting them to 2-of-8 from 3-point range, the Gators allowed the visitors to connect on 51.7 percent (15-of-29) from the floor in the second half including 8-of-16 (50 percent) from bonus land, neither of which sat well with UF head coach Billy Donovan.
"Coming off a really tough loss to South Alabama (one point defeat), I was really pleased with the way our kids came out in the first half," Donovan noted, "We did a great job defensively, we were very active, the press was effective, and we did a really really good job of defending the 3-point line. I thought our guys, in the first three or four minutes, actually got off to a pretty good start in the second half. But again, the 3-point line ended up hurting us defensively. We let them make eight out of 16, and it really kind of let them back in the game."
Doing the most damage was Vlad Moldoveanu, a 6-9 junior from Romania who transferred to American from George Mason. He connected on 4-of-6 attempts from 3-point range and scored 14 points, while junior guard Nick Hendra had a double-double for the Eagles with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, helping American edge UF in rebounding by a 37-36 margin.
UF only dressed out 10 players, as guard Ray Shipman (knee) and backup center Kenny Kadji (back) both were in street clothes. The absence of Shipman led to a career-high 13 minutes of action for walk-on Kyle McLanahan, whom Donovan said "really played well."
"I'm happy for the win and happy that we could win but still come out of this with something to learn," Donovan said. "We had some balance, and I think this game is a game we can build off of. We've got a quick turnaround to try and get ready for Wednesday (Presbyterian)."
Monday night's game was part of a basketball double-header, with the UF women evening their record at 6-6 on the season in the opener with a 78-49 win over Ohio University.
Gators End Slide After Downing American
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