This time it took a while.
After opening their SEC schedule by overwhelming the Georgia Bulldogs right from the get go, the Florida Gators started slow against the LSU Tigers, but used a 31-6 “surge” between halves to take control and run away from the overmatched Tigers in Baton Rouge.
Kenny Boynton overcame a slow shooting start to lead all scorers with 20 as the Gators went to 2-0 in the SEC against a chippy LSU team which came out firing in it’s quick strike offense but ultimately couldn’t keep up with Florida’s athleticism. Erik Murphy, still dealing with the effects of bruised ribs, opened the game 0-5 from three point range and couldn’t seem to find a rhythm early.
Boynton and Murphy combined to go 1-8 from three point range in the first half as the Gators shot 3-12 from beyond the arc and 36% from the field overall. Luckily for the Gators, their suffocating defense kept LSU from doing much either as they were held to 2-9 from three point range and shot 30% overall from the field.
Neither team could do much offensively for the first 16 minutes of the game with the largest lead being five by the Gators who went up 15-10 with 9:31 remaining. With four to go in the first half the game was tied at 19 when Scottie Wilbekin hit a rather innocuous floater to make it a 21-19 score.
At that point neither team was shooting very well but the Gators, as has been their motif all year, kept grinding, playing tough defense and waiting for their shots to start falling. And the shots did start to fall, slowly, as the Gators went on a quiet 10-1 run to close out the half to lead LSU 29-20 at the half.
The Gators started to get into a rhythm offensively to open the second half as Murphy hit his first two three point shots leading the Gator surge to go up 39-23 under four minutes in. From there, the Gators played sound defense and used their inside game with Erik Murphy and Patric Young to take control of the basketball game.
LSU opened the second half 2-14 from the field as they repeatedly were harrassed into taking poor shots by the Gator defense. From the four minute mark of the first half to the 12:24 mark of the second, the Gators went on a 31-6 run to double up the Tigers and take a commanding 50-25 lead. From there is was all over but the crying for the LSU.
With the Tigers trying to execute their quick shooting, fast-paced offense, the Gators took advantage by dominating the boards 53-34 limiting the LSU offensive possessions and jump-starting the Gators fast break offense. In the end the Gators athleticism and inside-outside game was simply too much for the Tigers.
“I think we did a great job of crashing the boards today,” according to forward Will Yeguete who had a game high 13 rebounds to go with his 10 points. “The big man, the 7’3″ guy, was tired so we kept crashing over and over and we got a couple of easy rebounds and I think that helped us.”
He added, “We just try to really be disruptive and I think we are doing a really good job so far. Guarding the other teams and, just mostly, the most important thing (is) getting rebounds so we can push the ball and run.”
The Gators were led by senior guard Kenny Boynton, who appears to have snapped out of his early season shooting slump, with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists.
“I put those games behind me in the beginning of the year,” Boynton said. “I think it was more mental more than anything. I was just trying to be the best I can for my team whether that’s scoring or defense.”
Patric Young overcame a difficult first half to finish with 14 points and 7 rebounds, one of four Gators in double figures. Power forward Erik Murphy who couldn’t drain a toilet with a hand grenade in the first twenty minutes found his rhythm in the second half ending the game with 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Small forward Will Yeguete, still nursing a sore knee started slow as well but really came on in the second half.
“He (Yeguete) did not get off to a good start at all,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “Some of it may be his tendinitis sitting on the bench there and trying to get himself going once he got himself lathered up. But I thought he played a really good game defensively for us, he rebounded the ball really well.”
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin, continuing his run of good play after being suspended to start the season, chipped in with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Freshman Michael Frazier II, playing extended minutes due to the absence of Mike Rosario, who sat out with an ankle injury suffered in the Georgia game, finished with 5 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Once again, the Gators started sluggishly allowing an overmatched team to hang with them through the first twenty minutes of the game. But credit their effort and resiliency as they fought through the adversity to take over the game and run away with a 22 point victory after opening the SEC slate with a 33 point victory over Georgia.
” The biggest thing I was proud of in the game was things were not going always well for them individually and there was some perseverance there,” commented Donovan after the game. “I thought we showed some resolve for the whole game when things got difficult for us.”
And once again, the Gators had to play with a different lineup, the tenth different lineup of the season, due to injuries. Currently, besides Rosario’s bad ankle, the Gators are dealing with Scottie Wilbekin’s broken finger, Erik Murphy’s bruised ribs, Will Yeguete’s tendinitis, and now Casey Prather’s sprained ankle suffered shortly before the end of the first half. He remained on the bench for the entire second half. As has been the case all season, however, this team played through it.
“We just stick together and stay connected,” said forward Will Yeguete. “Sometimes somebody’s going to go down, you know Mike goes down and we played without Casey and Scottie at the beginning of the season.”
“I don’t want to say we’re used to that , but we know that we can do it. Because we believe in ourselves and the coaches believe in us.”
LSU was led by guard Anthony Hickey with 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. The only other double figure scorer for the Tigers was forward Shavon Coleman who had 11 points and 5 rebounds.
LSU becomes the lastest Gator opponent to fail to hit 60 points. Only four teams have scored more than 60 on the Gators (Arizona, Central Florida, Air Force, and Kansas State), who came into the game fourth in the nation in scoring defense giving up slightly over 52 ppg. Nobody has reached the 70 point mark.
The Gators continue a back to back road schedule as they travel to College Station, Texas to take on new conference member the Texas A&M Aggies on Thursday night. Tip off for the game is 7 pm eastern and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.