Just before Florida and LSU tipped off on Friday afternoon, questions swirled around the status of forward Erik Murphy.
It was reported that Murphy had hurt his knee in an earlier practice session, and although an MRI came back clean, Murphy’s strength heading into the game was an uncertainty.
If the knee bothered the senior at all, he didn’t show it, pacing the Gators with a career-high 27 points en route to an 80-58 Florida victory.
Murphy immediately quelled any concerns when he promptly scored the game’s first basket just 13 seconds into the contest.
Patric Young and Mike Rosario would add quick scores soon after, but until the game’s first timeout, it was seemingly all Murphy, who had already posted seven points and four rebounds by the first break.
The Gators held a six-point lead when the broadcast broke for commercials, but soon after the action restarted, LSU made a run, cutting UF’s lead to just one.
The last time the two teams met, Florida was able to put the clamps on LSU’s leading scorer, Johnny O’Bryant. With O’Bryant essentially taken out of the game, it was Anthony Hicks who stepped in to fill the void, scoring 15 points for the Tigers.
With O’Bryant again struggling to do anything of significance, it was Charles Carmouche who decided to step up for the Tigers, scoring 12 first half points. Despite his best efforts however, Carmouche couldn’t match the red-hot Murphy who finished with 15 first half points along with nine rebounds.
Behind Murphy, the Gators stretched their lead from one at the midway point of the first half, to 12 with 37 seconds remaining.
“Coach has been on us about (playing with fire) so obviously you want to come out and play with a lot of energy,” Murphy said after the game. “He’s been on us all week about playing aggressive, but playing smart.”
With roughly a two second differential between the game and shot clock, LSU held the ball for what it hoped would be the final possession of the half. After letting the clock wind down, Hickey hoisted a shot attempt, which clanked off the rim into Mike Rosario’s hands.
Rather than letting his team take an ill-fated half-court heave, Donovan immediately signaled for a timeout with 3.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
Donovan has been stating openly that he wants more aggression out of his team, and the Gators’ coach decided to set the example by drawing up a play for more points at the end of the half.
After a Casey Prather inbound pass, Rosario took two dribbles before hitting an open Michael Frazier II at the perimeter. The backboard frame turned red just as the ball reached the bottom of the nylon. It was Frazier’s second three of the half, and the Gators’ lead was now at 15.
Donovan pumped his fist as he headed into the locker room, and even though there was still 20 minutes to play, the only question to ask was if the game was already over.
By the 9-minute mark, the Gators had pushed their lead to 33, signaling to the rest of the SEC that this rested Florida team came to Nashville on a mission.
Although Murphy was the clear star, the Gators saw several players finish in double figures. Scottie Wilbekin had a remarkable game on both ends of the floor, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting while playing his signature lock-down defense.
Frazier and Young would both finish with an identical 10 points on 3-0f-5 shooting, while Murphy would also snag a career-high matching 12 rebounds. Carmouche would ultimately wind up with just two more points in the second half, bringing his total to 14. He was the only Tigers player to finish in double figures.
After breaking out with a 24-point performance against UGA on Thursday, LSU’s Shavon Coleman was held to just seven points on Friday, further proof of the Gators’ defensive dominance.
Florida will now await the winner of the Tennessee-Alabama game, which was played immediately after UF’s bout with LSU. The Gators will meet the UT/UA winner at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The win was a definite confidence boost for the Gators, but Murphy says the team will put it behind them almost immediately.
“(Donovan is) big about living in the moment, so this happened, it’s in the past,” Murphy said. We’ll move on right away.”