GAINESVILLE — His knee is so sore from bone spurs and tendinitis that sometimes when he's home late at night it's difficult to handle, but Florida senior center Vernon Macklin has decided that his team needs him right now more than he needs a break, so he's battling through the best he can.
On Tuesday night, Macklin pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds, nine in the second half, and teammates Alex Tyus and Kenny Boynton combined for 40 points to lead the Gators to a 79-66 victory over Florida Atlantic at the O'Connell Center.
Coach Billy Donovan said this week that Macklin might be forced to sit out several weeks to rest the knee, but Macklin is refusing, saying it's not what's best for the team.
"I'm getting better right now," he said Tuesday night. "I do a lot of treatment and rehab before the game, so I'm getting better. I still feel the pain, so I'm not 100 percent yet."
For the second straight game, the No. 16 Gators (4-1) played an opponent that was overmatched, at least on paper, but which refused to go away quietly.
Florida led by as many as 13 in the first half and held a 34-32 lead at halftime. The Gators took a 47-39 lead with 12:44 remaining in the game, but the Owls (3-3) kept the game within a single-digit deficit. Midway through the second half, the Gators were shooting 6-of-17 from the field and holding precariously to a six-point lead.
But as FAU began to accumulate foul trouble and Florida took control on the boards, the Gators eventually pulled away. Although Florida outscored the Owls 36-18 in the paint, FAU kept it close with its perimeter shooting — led by sophomore forward Greg Gantt, a Gainesville native who scored a team-high 17.
For Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis, the opportunity to play Florida provided a two-fold result: cash and invaluable experience he hopes will pay off later in the season.
"We need the cash, all right?" Jarvis said jokingly when asked about scheduling the Gators.
"To be honest with you, schools pay you a lot of money to go and beat up on you. When you can get paid to take a bus ride and compete, then you do. But it's a huge risk. If your kids don't compete and you come in and get pounded, then you're probably going to have a long season. …
"In the long run, this game can help us. I told our kids before the game we're trying to become a legitimate mid major. Our goal is to win our tournament, and if you do, then you're going to run into a team like Florida. (Tuesday night) was a step in the right direction."
Antonya English can be reached at e[email protected]