Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Casey Prather landed awkwardly on his left foot going up for an uncontested offensive rebound. The Florida junior forward put the ball in the basket then hobbled down the floor until a timeout late in the first half stopped play.
Prather dropped to floor, and after being checked by UF trainers was helped to the bench.
Already without senior guard Mike Rosario due a sprained ankle, Gators coach Billy Donovan laid it out for his players as they huddled up.
"We're basically down to six guys now," Donovan told them.
It was time to apply that push-through mentality that Donovan pounds and preaches into his players day after day at practice, exhorting them to battle through the physical challenges and emotional drain.
Or as Patric Young put it after the 11th-ranked Gators grinded to a thoroughly convincing 74-52 road win over Southeastern Conference rival LSU:
"What other choice did we have? It was either fight or flight."
So the Gators put 'em up.
Senior guard guard Boynton scored 20 points, nailing four of his eight 3-point shots, while junior forward Will Yeguete came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 13 rebounds to help Florida (12-2, 2-0) silence a Saturday crowd of 9,964 at the Maravich Assembly Center and win a fourth game in a row.
UF awakened from a slow start after shooting just 26.9 percent through nearly 16 minutes of the game to convert nearly 57 percent over the final 24, using a 31-6 run that bridged the two halves to turn a 19-all tie into a 50-25 lead nearly eight minutes deep into the second period.
In between, the Gators lost Prather, who was playing the best basketball of his career, to what UF trainer David "Duke" Werner termed a high ankle sprain. X-rays to the injury were negative, but Prather's status for Thursday's trip to Texas A&M -- which Saturday beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena, by the way -- is in question.
Without Prather and Rosario, that meant little breathing room -- literally -- for Boynton (35 minutes), point guard Scottie Wilbekin (36) and center Pat Young (30), who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Forward Erik Murphy, already playing with a broken rib, was forced back into the starting lineup and scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished three assists. Yeguete, still dealing with knee tendinitis that limited him to 14 minutes in Wednesday's defeat of Georgia, had to go 25 minutes and battled to pull six offensive rebounds.
Even freshman reserve Michael Frazier III logged a career-high 31 minutes, scoring five points, grabbing seven rebounds and carding three assists.
"It's a byproduct of Coach pushing us in practice," Boynton said. "It's really an effort thing for us."
The Tigers (9-4, 0-2) came into the game 8-0 at home and had the crowd's attention when the score was tied at 19, until the Gators closed the half on a 10-1 run -- including the basket and injury to Prather -- then blitzed the home team for 21 of the second half's first 24 points.
"Just more adversity," Wilbekin said of his team's dwindling roster. "It seems like we've been dealing with stuff all season. We responded to it well today."
Boynton, who passed both Erving Walker and Udonis Haslem to move into third place on the school's career scoring list with 1,782 points, had a pair of 3-pointers during the run and Murphy another, but the Gators were playing defense, also, holding LSU to 32.3 percent for the game.
"I thought we won the game on the defensive end," Donovan said.
Florida pounded LSU 53-34 on the glass, including 19 offensive rebounds, and thoroughly frustrated 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward Johnny Bryant (1-for-8, 5 rebounds), the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder. Bryant, in fact, was benched by Coach Johnny Jones for the rest of the game after taking the second of two long 2-point shots early in the second half, rather mixing up and posting up with UF's bigs.
And 7-foot-3 center Andrew Del Piero (7 points, 5 rebounds) just could not run with the Gators.
"It was us just trying to be destructive on defense," Yeguete said. "We're doing a really good job guarding teams and getting rebounds so we can push the ball and run."
The Gators had to weather a 12-0 spurt by the Tigers, whose full-court press flummoxed the visitors into a flurry of turnovers -- four in barely a minute -- with guard Anthony Hickey (15 points) doing damage -- and cuting UF's 25-point lead to 13. LSU fans were back in the game.
UF's spacing and in the press offense wasn't good during that stint, but the Gators ultimately handled the difficult road environment much better than in the losses to Arizona and Kansas State.
"We did a good job of pushing through fatigue," Boynton said. "They made their run, but after that we did a great job of getting stops."
When Murphy buried a wide-open three off a press break, Florida settled down and slowly worked the lead back into the 20s and eliminated any drama the rest of the way.
"I was really pleased," Donovan said. "Coming down the stretch with six guys, on the road, I thought it was a really, really good win for our guys."
Any SEC road victory is a good one.
Wins with just six players are even better.