The Florida Gators mens basketball team returns to action today as they take on the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, Connecticut. Today’s game will mark the Gators final non-conference game before beginning the SEC conference schedule next week. The Gators will be making their first ever road trip to an Ivy League school.
The Gators (9-2) began the season on fire going 7-0 beating their opponents in dominating fashion but since then have gone 2-2 and have struggled at times. They’ve been off since last Saturday when they beat the Air Force Academy 78-61. The Gators actually struggled in that game in the first half leading only by two (33-31) at the half before taking over the game in the second half.
The good news for the Gators is that senior guard Kenny Boynton has snapped out of his shooting slump. Somewhat at least. He finished with 14 points against the Air Force dropping three 3-pointers after going a combined 4-32 in the previous five games.
“It felt good to come out and play an all around good game,” Boynton said after the game. “I just tried to make sure it (shots) came to me. I watched a lot of film with coach Donovan with the shots I’ve been taking, and basically I just tried to take open ones. That’s what I tried to do in the second half.”
Senior forward Erik Murphy, who had been relatively quiet offensively of late, led all scorers against Air Force with 21 points adding 7 rebounds and 4 assists, his best output since leading the Gators with 24 against Wisconsin.
“I have a hard time believing there are many better three point shooters at the power forward spot,” Donovan said.
As good as he’s been from the perimeter, though, it has been his increased leadership and play in the post that has really helped this team this season. He’s playing more underneath the basket getting good inside shots, rebounding the ball, and blocking shots. His play has helped take some pressure off of center Patric Young which has freed him to do some good things in the post offensively and defensively.
Boynton and Murphy combined for 44 points in last season’s contest against Yale as the Gators shot a blistering 53% from the field. With their help the Gators dominated that contest running away to a 90-70 victory in the O’Connell Center.
The Bulldogs this season are led by senior guard Austin Morgan with a 12.5 ppg average and 6-8 freshman forward Justin Sears at 10.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg. 6-10 junior center Jeremiah Kriesberg chips in with 7.1 ppg and 3.1 rpg. Sophmore guard Armani Cotton led the Bulldogs in their last outing on Friday a 61-54 victory over Holy Cross scoring 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“I pride myself on effort,” Cotton said on the basketball team website. “Not every shot is going to go in, but you can always control effort.”
With the early season schedule being tight and very demanding, the last month has been relatively slow and easy giving the Gators good practice time to work on the issues that have been plaguing them.
“From a teaching standpoint in terms of what we’ve done up to this point in time it’s been a good opportunity to break things down and try to show our guys areas that we’ve got to get better,” Donovan said.
What do they have to improve on?
“I think cleary our defensive numbers are not what they were earlier in the year,” said Donovan. “I’m not looking at it so much in terms of field goal percentage or three point field goal percentage but what is our defensive efficiency rating. How many points are we giving up per possession?”
“Generally you give up a lot of points when, one, you foul, and put teams to the free throw line, and you give up three point shots. If you look at the Kansas State game we obviously put them to the free throw line quite a bit. I thought against Air Force we gave up way too many three point shots. So we’ve had some slippage there defensively that we need to get better.”
Tonight’s game will be the Gators last chance to show that the extra practice time has paid off. After this they step into the grind of conference play and practice time will be at a premium. They will open league play on Wednesday at home against rival the Georgia Bulldogs. Tonight’s game tips off at 5:30 pm eastern and will be televised on NBC Sports Network.