Florida’s final non-conference road trip to Yale on Sunday will mark a homecoming of sorts for senior forward Erik Murphy.
A native of South Kingstown, R.I., Murphy will have a large contingent of family and friends in attendance in New Haven, Conn., for the 5:30 p.m. tip against the Bulldogs.
“It’s really nice,” Murphy said. “Coach (Billy Donovan) is really good about that with the seniors, getting games close to home for them. Most guys are somewhere close to Florida or in Florida, and I’m going back up there so it’s exciting.”
Murphy is coming off an MVP performance from last Saturday’s 78-61 win against Air Force in the Orange Bowl Classic. Along with a team-high 21 points, Murphy also led the Gators with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in Sunrise, Fla.
While the Yale game will mark Florida’s first time visiting an Ivy League school, Murphy is anticipating plenty of familiar faces cheering him on. He said a couple family friends rented buses to make the 84-mile trek to Connecticut.
“I get to see some people I have seen in a while so that’s exciting,” Murphy said. “It’s cool to have them all come down from about an hour and 20 minutes away. It’ll be fun.”
With five of their last six games played outside of Gainesville, the Gators have quickly gotten comfortable to an array of road environments.
Yale’s John J. Lee Ampitheater, however, sits in stark contrast to the packed arenas Florida has seen in Tuscon, Ariz., and Kansas City in recent weeks. With a capacity crowd of 2,532 expected to be on hand for the sold out game, the Gators will be playing in their smallest venue of the season.
“It’s going to be a difficult place to play in,” Donovan said. “It’s going to be a great environment, I’m sure.”
While the 4-10 Bulldogs may not present another top-25 matchup for the No. 13 Gators (9-2), senior guard Kenny Boynton is still wary of Yale’s ability to make the outside shot.
Last season, Florida won 90-70 at home in its first ever game against the Bulldogs. The New Year’s Eve game saw Yale hit 52.4 percent from three on 11-of-21 shooting.
“A team like Yale, they have 10 players that can shoot threes, so that will be a big thing in the game,” Boynton said. “It’s a home game, so we know they’re going to come ready to play.”
For most college students, the holidays allow for a momentary respite from their busy schedule before starting a new semester.
The same can’t be said for a college basketball team.
Donovan has his team practicing twice a day during their break without the burden of planning around the players’ class schedules.
“This has been really good for at least myself,” Donovan said. “For our guys, it’s been pretty demanding. I think any time you’re in a situation where there’s no school and no time restraints, in a lot of ways, you’re in a position where you have unlimited time to work and get better.”
The Gators’ lax 3-point defense and opponent free throw numbers have been chief among Donovan’s concerns in practice this week.
In a 67-61 loss to Kansas State on Dec. 22, Florida sent the Wildcats to the free-throw line for 29 attempts, which KSU converted into a season-high 20 points from the charity stripe. Seven days later against Air Force, the Gators allowed the Falcons to hit nine 3-pointers on 45 percent shooting behind the arc.
“Generally, you give up a lot of points when [No. 1], you foul and put teams to the free-throw line and you give up 3-point shots,” Donovan said. “So we’ve had some slippage there defensively that we need to get better.”