Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
PHOENIX – Erik Murphy was 0-for-5 shooting in the first half and looked timid after missing a pair of open 3-pointers early.
Florida coach Billy Donovan, sensing Murphy’s drop in confidence, lit into him at the break. Not the way you might expect.
“I want you to shoot every time you’re open,’’ Donovan told Murphy. “And if I see you not shooting the ball, I’m taking you out of the game.”
Murphy responded in the second half, finishing with a modest seven points, including a 3-pointer that stretched Florida’s lead to 43-34 – their biggest lead of the game at that point – with 15:15 left.
But more important in Florida’s 68-58 win over Marquette was the way Murphy played in other areas to impact the game. While the Gators rely on Murphy’s outside shooting to create space inside, they have equally counted on his defensive presence of late.
Murphy has risen to the challenge, including the tough assignment on Thursday night of often guarding Marquette’s Jae Crowder. Crowder, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound bruiser who was named Big East Conference Player of the Year, was a primary focus of Florida’s defense.
The Gators wanted to prevent Marquette’s leading scorer, guard Darius Johnson-Odom, and Crowder from taking over the game. With an array of talented guards to defend the perimeter, Donovan had several options to guard Johnson-Odom.
As for Crowder, he turned to the 6-10, 230-pound Murphy to help Patric Young stay out of trouble.
While Murphy had an off night shooting – he finished 3 of 13 and 1 of 8 beyond the arc – the junior forward grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
He made the kind of difference the Gators needed against a physical Marquette team. Crawford, averaging 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, was held to 15 points and seven rebounds. He was 5-for-15 shooting and had only two offensive rebounds.
“I just tried to execute our game plan with Crowder in there and their other bigs,’’ Murphy said. “I tried to take some stuff away. If the shots aren’t falling, you’ve got to find other ways to affect the game.”
Murphy’s performance continued a recent trend of him defending the opponent’s primary low-post threat. He went head-to-head with Kentucky’s Terrence Jones twice in one week. He battled Alabama’s JaMychal Green in the SEC Tournament.
In the Gators’ first-round win over Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Murphy was often pitted against Cavaliers forward Mike Scott, an All-ACC first-teamer. In the second-round win over Norfolk State, Murphy helped limit Spartans 6-10, 240-pound center Kyle O’Quinn to four points on 1-of-9 shooting.
His progression defensively has earned Murphy respect from his teammates.
“I don’t know how this guy does it, but he gets about three blocks a game,’’ Young said. “This guy can’t jump. He’s not quick. But he blocks shots every game. That’s what impressed me the most.”
Part of Murphy’s success Thursday was due to him accepting Donovan’s halftime challenge.
“Murphy is just being aggressive on both ends of the floor,’’ Gators freshman Brad Beal said. “Coach is always getting on his butt about rebounding in practice. It’s carried over to the game. He’s doing a tremendous job for us.”
Murphy took on a more prominent defensive role when forward Will Yeguete suffered a season-ending broken foot. All Yeguete could do Thursday was watch from the bench, knowing that if he was healthy he would likely have earned plenty of minutes matched up on Crowder.
Instead, Murphy played the whole second half.
“He has been more physical. He has picked it up defensively and is doing a really good job guarding all the guys, and rebounding,’’ Yeguete said. “He got 10 today. And he blocks shots. People don’t see that. He has definitely improved defensively throughout the season.”
Senior guard Erving Walker sees a different player than the one who missed time early in the season.
“Him going into the weight room almost every day has helped him out a lot,’’ Walker said. “When he puts his mind to it, we know he is just more than a shooter. I think he showed it tonight and did a great job.”