Gators go ham on Hogs in 98-68 win

Teammates had praised Brad Beal’s aggressive play lately. After Erik Murphy dropped in the Gators’ first five points against the Razorbacks, Beal rolled into the paint and scored the next seven.

His aggressive play opened Arkansas (17-10, 5-7 SEC) up on the defensive end of the floor, and Florida (21-6, 9-3 SEC) simply couldn’t miss in a 98-68 win.

“We thought the key in the game was how we handled their pressure,” coach Billy Donovan said on the Gator Radio Network. “We did a great job driving the ball, moving it around. I thought our backcourt really, really played phenomenal.”

When the dust settled, the Gators had knocked down 13 three-pointers on 23 attempts, a blistering 56.5 percent from the perimeter.

Beal stuffed the stat sheet for the second straight game, scoring 21 points, pulling down nine rebounds and chipping in three assists, two steals and two blocks.

Senior Erving Walker, who entered the game shooting just 23 percent from the floor in the previous three outings, broke out of his recent slump with a career-high 31-point effort, finishing 9-12 from the floor.

“When he’s playing well, it changes the complexion of our team, because you have to account for him,” Donovan said. “What he did tonight, not only shooting the ball but passing the ball, was great.”

Walker was near perfect, also dishing out five assists without a turnover.

“I remember my freshman year I came here and Erv went off for 27,” said junior shooting guard Kenny Boynton. “He just believed in his shot today. He did a great job working on his shot this week.”

Boynton joined Walker and Beal in scoring more than 20 points. He dropped in 25 points, while junior power forward Erik Murphy added 13. Sophomore Will Yeguete, returning from a concussion, grabbed 11 rebounds.

Florida shot 58.3 percent (28-48) from the floor, scoring 98 points on just 48 shots. The Gators turned it over 11 times, while outrebounding the Razorbacks 38-21.

“I thought the way they were playing us defensively, we had to make good decisions because they turn people over,” Donovan said. “They get a lot of steals, they get out in transition. Because we shot such a high percentage, it kept them out of transition and took away easy baskets.”

The Gators played arguably their best game of the year and have roared back to life on a two-game road swing after dropping back-to-back games to Kentucky and Tennessee last week.

At 9-3 in league play, Florida is in sole possession of second place in the SEC race and is in great shape to nail down one of the league’s four byes in the SEC Tournament with a couple more wins.

“This has been a hard stretch,” Donovan said. “I think every year there is going to be a stretch where it’s hard to get a breather. The last two weeks has been really a grueling stretch for us. Something we can build on, hopefully this gives us some confidence and we realize what we can become.”

Florida returns home Tuesday for a game against Auburn at 7 p.m.

“Auburn always plays us tough,” Boynton said. “We went in there and shot it bad last year. We’ve just got to get out in practice and work.”