Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Sports

Florida routs Northwestern State in NCAA

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AUSTIN, Texas — The reminder about how unpredictable the NCAA Tournament can be, especially for top seeds, came to the Florida Gators loud and clear Friday night — in color on an arena JumboTron.

Shortly after the Gators emerged from the locker room with an eight-point halftime lead over Northwestern State, No. 2 seed Georgetown was battling for its NCAA Tournament life against No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast.

The "other" game got the crowd enthused and the Gators responded, ensuring they didn't suffer the same upset fate.

Nearly one week after relinquishing a double-digit halftime lead in a loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament final, Florida came out in dominating fashion in the second half for a 79-47 victory over Northwestern State on Friday night in the second round of the South Region at the Erwin Center.

The No. 3 seed Gators (27-7) play No. 11 Minnesota on Sunday in the third round. The Gophers routed No. 6 seed UCLA 83-63.

"In the first half I was disappointed in our defense, we did not do a great job," Florida coach Billy Donovan said after the Demons shot 54.2 percent. "We did a much, much better job in the second half. I think some of that is when you're playing a team for the first time, you don't really know what to expect.

"But we really defended well in the second half. We established inside. Patric (Young) and Erik (Murphy) really gave us good post presence. And the guards did a great job getting it inside.

"So it was a good win considering the fact we came out of maybe a little bit of a slow half."

Florida led 40-32 at halftime, but Northwestern State (23-9) scored on its first two possessions in the second half to pull within four. Then over the next 5:45 it scored just one basket.

The Demons, who entered the game as the nation's top scoring offense (81 points per game), were held to five second-half field goals and 19.2 percent shooting.

"Their bulk and strength over the course of the game really got us in the second half," Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. "I think we had 12 empty possessions. But I'm really proud of our team for coming out and competing hard."

The frenetic, up-tempo first half was precisely what the Gators had anticipated from the Demons. In the second half, Florida's defense clamped down. In the first 14½ minutes of the second half, the Demons were 4-of-19 from the field and had seven turnovers.

"I think when we came out it was our energy level and our focus (that intensified)," said guard Kenny Boynton who became the second player in Florida history to score 2,000 career points. "In the first half we had slip-ups and they got wide open layups. In the second half we got together and started helping each other out."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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