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Senior guard Kenny Boynton taking a shot Saturday against Alabama (Photo: Frederick Breedon).

Saturday March 16, 2013Gators Use Second-Half Surge to Roll Past Tide, Earn Berth in SEC Tournament Championship

Senior guard Kenny Boynton taking a shot Saturday against Alabama (Photo: Frederick Breedon).

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The words were a mix of equal parts admonishment, criticism and confidence, yet all Billy Donovan saw from his players at halftime Saturday were blank faces and glazed-over eyeballs. 

 The top-seeded Florida Gators were down three against the blue-collar Alabama Crimson Tide and very little was going right for the top-seeded team in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. 

 Donovan was as dumbfounded with his team's collective body language as his players were with the circumstances. 

 What came next was a tough-love tongue-lashing directed at the group, but with a little extra in the direction of senior guard Kenny Boynton. 

 "Have some confidence in yourself. Have some belief. Move to the next play. Grow up. Mature. OK, so it's not going well. Embrace the struggle and the grind, don't lose but confidence and get down in yourself -- its disrupting everybody. Nothing good comes out of it. It does not help us. No one is going to give this to you. You have to go and take it." 

 The Gators promptly went out and quickly fell behind by 10. 

 But then they believed and grew up and matured and embraced the struggle -- all that stuff -- and basically went and took their SEC semifinal from the Crimson Tide with an eruption of second-half energy that fueled a fiery 61-51 comeback win at Bridgestone Arena.    

 Boynton awakened from one of the coldest stretches of his career to score 11 straight points during a 15-point UF blitz that turned a 10-point deficit into a five-point cushion and served up the momentum needed for the most inspired win of the season. 

 "Honestly, he did challenge me," Boynton said of Donovan's intermission intervention after finishing with 16 points, all in the second half. "I think I tried to step up." 

 With it, the Gators (26-6) stepped into the SEC Tournament championship game Sunday to face Ole Miss (25-8), a 64-52 winner over Vanderbilt in the other Saturday semifinal, with a chance to pair the regular-season conference title with the tournament title for only the second time in school history. 

 "We came here to win a championship," Florida junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "That's really all we're thinking about right now." 

 They may not have been in position to do so had Boynton, aka "KB," not morphed into another "KB" (as in Kobe Bryant) for about four minutes. 

 After shooting just 34 percent from the field and 27 from 3-point range over the previous 13 games -- including 1-for-7 and 0-for-4 in Friday's dusting of LSU -- Boynton scored on five straight UF possessions (two free throws and four consecutive field goals) that completely changed the game's complexion. 

 Down 37-27 with less than 16 minutes to play, the Gators got two free throws from backup forward Will Yeguete. They got two more free throws from Boynton when Alabama's seventh team foul put Florida in the bonus with 14:56 remaining. Alabama's lead was just six 

 At that point, the Gators had gone nearly 6 1/2 minutes -- bridging the two halves -- without a field goal. 

 Then Boynton, 0-for-3 shooting at that point, grabbed a rebound in traffic and raced coast-to-coast for a layup. Then he nailed a trey to draw UF within a point. Then freshman Michael Frazier grabbed a rebound and fed Boynton for another coast-to-coast layup to give the Gators the lead.

 "He pretty much took over the game," senior forward Erik Murphy said. 

 After Alabama (21-12) took a timeout, Boynton turned a missed Tide layup into another made jumper.

 "How many did he score in a row?" Wilbekin asked. 

 Answer: 11. 

 When center Patric Young, with 13 points and nine rebounds, nailed a jump hook it made 15 straight for the Gators, who from there got a chance to do something they had not done very well this season. 

 Close out a game. 

 "They made plays when they needed to," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "Very similar to the first time we played them." 

 Exactly two weeks ago, Bama was leading leading Florida by eight at Gainesville when UF collectively awakened and rolled the Tide for a 12-point win. 

 This time, the Gators didn't have the adulation and comfort of the O'Connell Center to lean on.

 Just a coach who pushed back.  

 "I'm hoping our guys were able to learn a valuable lesson," Donovan said. "This time of year, it's not always a team that can play the prettiest and it doesn't always come the easiest. Sometimes there's got to be a will and fight to make something happen." 


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