Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Florida beats Alabama, reaches SEC final

NASHVILLE — With his team struggling offensively and showing signs of collapse in another close game Saturday, Florida coach Billy Donovan brought out his "A-game" halftime speech.

The general message was for the entire team. But he had a special segment for guard Kenny Boynton. The senior had missed his past 10 3-pointers in SEC tournament play dating to last season and was scoreless in the first half.

"He challenged me to come out and play with confidence," Boynton said. "Honestly, he did challenge me. I think I tried to step up to it."

Boynton, who had two points in the first three halves in this tournament, scored 11 in a row on five shots to help spark a second-half run that rallied the Gators from a 10-point deficit to a 61-51 win over Alabama in the SEC tournament semifinals.

The No. 1 seed Gators play Mississippi today at 1 for their fourth SEC tournament championship. Ole Miss advanced to the title game with a 64-52 victory over Vanderbilt.

Boynton finished the game with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

"I think I went after him pretty good at halftime," Donovan said. "The reason I went after him, I said that I've seen him over his career do some remarkable things, and I've seen him when he's been in slumps. I've seen his fight. …

"I just told him, 'You're a senior in college right now. It's time to fight. You've always fought.' I said, 'I got great confidence in you, but you've got to fight right now. You've got to fight through what you're going through, and right now I don't see that fight and that look on your face.' "

As Boynton responded, so, too, did the rest of the Gators (26-6). After trailing by 10 with 16:05 left in the game, UF outscored Alabama 34-14, including a 15-0 run in which Boynton had 11 straight points, to end the game.

"I think they've been the best team in the league all year," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "You look at the way they played during the regular season. They made the plays they needed to make today. Very similar to the first time we played them, the run they had in the second half there from the 16-minute mark to about the 11-minute mark, probably tells the story of the game. A 13-0 run, you go from being up 10 to down 3."

It's not as if the Gators didn't have their own struggles against the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide (21-12).

Florida shot 5-of-14 from the field in the first 10 minutes and was 1-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half. The Gators went from 1:31 left in the first half until Boynton's 3-pointer with 13:51 left in the second without a field goal. In the final eight minutes of the half, only center Patric Young and forward Casey Prather scored field goals. The Gators shot just 3-of-17 from beyond the arc but shot 42 percent from the field for the game.

Young finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.

"It was a good win for our team," senior forward Erik Murphy said. "Being down like that, we had to come together, really grind the game out, get stops and get good shots and we did that. It felt good."

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