For perhaps the first time at home all season, the No. 8 Gators looked to be in serious trouble.
Down 45-37 at the under-12 timeout in the second half, Florida was on its heels, failing to successfully ward off Alabama’s attack.
Whatever words were spoken during that timeout huddle proved to be effective. The Gators (23-5, 13-3) closed out the game on a 27-7 run, defeating the Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-5) by a final score of 64-52.
The first half remained tight from tip-off to halftime. Coming into the game, the Gators held a narrow one-game lead over the Tide in the SEC race, with Alabama having won five of its last six games.
The talk entering the day was Florida’s health, as fans and media alike trumpeted the return of Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II to the lineup. Despite both players appearing to look healthy (including Frazier who left practice with back spasms on Thursday), it was clear from the onset that Florida’s injured stars weren’t back to full strength — Yeguete in particular.
Scoring was hard to come by for both teams in the first half. The teams traded baskets — and leads — for the game’s first five minutes, before a Florida run put the Gators up by double figures midway through.
However, Alabama managed to stay in the game with runs of their own. Florida fizzled down the stretch, finishing the half on woeful 9-for-22 clip, including a lowly 2-for-7 performance from behind the three-point arc.
Seniors Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton would pace the Gators with nine points each heading into the break, but the rest of the Gators’ roster had yet to do much of anything.
Saturday was a big day for Boynton, who moved to No. 2 on UF’s all-time scoring list, passing Andrew Moten, who previously held the spot with 1,930 points.
The Gators’ start in the second half wasn’t exactly ideal. While both teams appeared to be somewhat sluggish in the first half, the Gators couldn’t manage to shake their funk as quickly as the Tide, falling behind by two.
After Trevor Releford pushed the lead to four on a layup, the Alabama guard quickly stole an inbounds pass from Florida, putting the Tide up by six. Before UF could blink, they were down by eight.
With the O-Dome growing increasingly silent, the Gators set out find some life, and managed to do so through Casey Prather. After the timeout, Prather threw a pass to Patric Young, who finished with a slam to cut the Gators’ deficit. On the next possession, Prather would take a Boynton pass to the hole, putting UF down only two.
With the Florida crowd beginning to slowly creep back to life, Scottie Wilbekin would get in on the act, hitting a jumper as Releford was fouled him. After Wilbekin’s free throw, Florida was down only one before a pair of Prather free throws put the Gators up … for good.
As quickly as they had been down, the Gators were now back up, with the O-Dome crowd perhaps as loud as it has been all season.
With 5:53 left, Young sank a shot in the paint to put UF up by five, and hustled down court where he set his feet to draw a Levi Randolph charge. With the momentum completely shifted, the Gators sealed the deal with a Boynton layup at the 43-second mark, as they went ahead by 10.
With their eventual 12-point victory, all of Florida’s wins this season have still come by double digits.
Murphy would eventually finish with a team high 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while also grabbing eight rebounds. Boynton would chip in 13 points, and Wilbekin and Prather would finish with 11 and 10 points respectively. Prather would finish with a game-high 9 rebounds.
Still holding on to their SEC lead, the Gators head into the final week of SEC play. Florida hosts Vanderbilt (12-15, 6-9) on Wednesday in the last home game for Florida’s three seniors. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. EST.