On the last night of basketball in the O’Connell Center this season, the script was the same it’d been all year.
No. 11 Florida held a big lead for much of the first half, before letting the lead grow close momentarily in the second. Then, in the same fashion as it’s been all season, the Gators exploded midway through the second, effectively ending the hopes of the visiting squad.
The victim this time was Vanderbilt, and the final score was 66-40. However, one thing was different. At the end of this particular game, the Gators had won the SEC outright and completed it’s second undefeated season at home in UF basketball history.
Although Florida’s (24-5, 14-3) seniors — Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario — enjoyed a wealth of fanfare and excitement surrounding their O-Dome swan song, none were particularly effective early on. In the first half, the three players combined for a total of nine points, with Rosario responsible for five of those.
With the seniors getting out to a sluggish start, a player whose future in orange and blue is still undecided — Patric Young — shouldered the load for the Gators. Young scored 10 of Florida’s 24 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, hitting his shots on 5-of-6 shooting.
Like the Gators, Vanderbilt (13-16, 7-10) was also unexpectedly reliant on a single player, as sophomore guard Kedren Johnson scored 10 of Vandy’s 14 first-half points.
With the Gators up by nine at the 17-minute mark in the second half, Boynton, who had experienced a rather cold shooting night beforehand, decided to get himself back in the game.
Hitting his first three of the night, the Gators were up by 12, and wouldn’t have a lead of less than double digits the rest of the way.
With the Gators up by 25, Donovan sent in the subs for his seniors, who walked to the bench as a loud standing ovation took place.
When it was all said and done, the Gators’ seniors had captured their second SEC regular season title, the first departing class to do so.
To celebrate the occasion, the team cut down the nets — on both ends of the floor — as a throng of fans stayed behind to celebrate.
The individual stats on this night came secondary, but the Gators did see three players finish in double figures. On his final night in the O-Dome, Boynton had resurged from a poor first-half performance to lead the team in scoring with 15 points. Young barely trailed behind with 14, while Murphy would finish with 10.
With the SEC championship completely wrapped up, the next task for Florida is cementing a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will travel to Rupp Arena on Sunday to take on Kentucky before SEC Tournament play begins next week.
Tonight, however, the Gators will enjoy just their fourth outright conference championship in school history.