Until Saturday, December had undoubtedly been a rough month for senior guard Kenny Boynton.
In the Gators’ last three games, to say the veteran scorer had been struggling would be an understatement, as seemingly every shot he took refused to fall in. However, playing just 17 miles away from his hometown in Pompano Beach, the SEC’s active all-time leading scorer again found his stroke at the BB&T Center in Sunrise (Fla.), leading the Gators to a 78-61 victory over Air Force in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic.
A week after putting forth their most sluggish effort of the season in a six-point loss to Kansas State, the Florida Gators found themselves in a dogfight from beginning to end against a surprisingly stingy Air Force club on Saturday.
The first half was tight from the get-go as both teams traded baskets during the game’s first 20 minutes. The Gators had three players who each finished the half with seven points, as guards Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, along with power forward Erik Murphy, paced the Gators to a 33-31 halftime lead.
Despite being unranked, Air Force showed early on that it’s no slouch as the Falcons matched seemingly everything Florida did, draining six threes in the first half. The Falcons successfully managed to force the Gators into some questionable shots during the half, as Florida continually had to fight to earn points.
However, despite their start, the Gators would start off the second half with a bang.
Nursing a three-point lead for the first four minutes of the half, the Gators finally came to life on the heels of their silent-leader Boynton.
After struggling mightily from behind the arc in the Gators’ last three contests, the streaky-shooter Boynton again found his shot, as he knocked down two consecutive threes to push the Gators’ lead to nine.
At that point, Florida would never look back.
Another big three by Boynton, followed by some solid free-throw shooting down the stretch, would be all the Gators needed to earn their ninth win of the season.
After managing to only attain a six-point lead at most during the first half, the Gators finally started to pull away in the second, at one point pushing their lead to 15 in front of the small, but pro-Florida crowd of just over 12,000.
Despite encountering immense pressure from the Air Force front-court all evening, Florida bigs Murphy and Patric Young would also make their presence felt in the ball game.
Murphy — who was the Orange Bowl Classic Player of the Game — would lead all UF scorers with 21 points on 7 of 9 shooting — doing his work both inside and outside of the paint. Murphy would also lead the Gators on the boards as the 6-foot 10 senior pulled down eight rebounds.
Not to be undone, Young would chip in 13 hard fought points on the night, as the junior fought off constant defensive pressure to make several hard dunks, energizing the team.
Boynton would finish the game with 14 points, with nine coming off of three-pointers.
Senior Michael Lyons would lead the Falcons in scoring with 11 points.
The Gators now turn their attention to their final non-conference game before kicking off their SEC-slate, as they will head north to New Haven (Conn.) to take on Yale next Sunday.
Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network.