Florida can wrap up SEC title tonight
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Senior Night could end with a net-cutting ceremony.
It would be the ideal home finale for Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario — the team’s only seniors and its top three scorers.
Together, they have the 11th-ranked Gators poised to become just the fourth team in school history to clinch the Southeastern Conference title outright.
Florida (23-5, 13-3) needs to win one of its remaining two games to wrap up the league title. Of course, the Gators would much rather accomplish the feat at home tonight against Vanderbilt (13-15, 7-9).
“That’d be huge,” said Murphy, who also won the SEC outright two years ago. “That’d be something really special for the team to accomplish that. Most of the guys weren’t here the first time, so to do it again would be something special, especially in my last year and the possibility of doing it on Senior Night.”
For Boynton, Murphy and Rosario, getting to this point was hardly routine.
Boynton was a can’t-miss prospect coming out of high school in 2009 and was widely considered a one-and-done player. Instead, he spent four years in Gainesville and endured constant criticism for failing to live up to the hype.
He ranks second on Florida’s all-time scoring list with 1,940 points and first in 3-pointers made (320). Still, he’s averaging a career-low 12.5 points this season and is shooting just 24.5 percent (13-of-53) from behind the arc over his last nine games.
“I think it’s a mind thing,” Boynton said. “I can’t say it’s different from this year to that year. From this year to last year, I don’t think anything’s changed in my shot. I’ve been in the gym if not more this year than last year trying to get it back right, so I think principally it’s probably a mind thing.”
Despite his shooting slump, Boynton has been a more complete player. He’s averaging 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists — both career highs — and has just 37 turnovers.
But his failure to become the go-to guy, the kind of player who can take over games down the stretch, has overshadowed his accomplishments.
Given he was on the floor for both NCAA Tournament collapses the last two years — blown leads against Butler in 2011 and Louisville in 2012 — Boynton would like nothing more than secure his legacy with a trip to the Final Four and more.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “In the four years I’ve been here, I think I’ve gotten better as a player. I definitely didn’t think when I signed here I’d be here four years, but I am here and I decided to stay. ... I’ve tried my best to win as much as I could. Definitely I want to go out this year as a winner with winning a national championship.”
Murphy considered leaving Florida after playing sparingly his first two seasons, and even after he decided to stay, his career got off track following his 2011 arrest for allegedly breaking into a car outside a bar.
Murphy was suspended for much of the offseason, reinstated after accepting a deferred prosecution agreement in which he agreed to pay restitution, perform community service and complete a substance abuse evaluation program.
He dedicated himself to getting better on and off the court — and he did.
Murphy has become one of the best power forwards in the country. He leads the SEC in 3-point shooting, averaging 46.4 percent, and has become more versatile. He’s averaging a career-best 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds and already has topped last year’s totals for assists and steals.
“There’s so much I can take away, just life lessons, basketball lessons,” Murphy said. “It’s been a crazy four years. It’s been a roller-coaster ride. But it’s been the best four years of my life. There’s so much I can take away from it.”
Rosario has made the most improvement in the shortest time.
The former Rutgers standout transferred to Florida in 2010, sat out one year and was hardly a factor last season. He missed more than two dozen practices, prompting Donovan to essentially call him soft, and had everyone guessing how much he would contribute as a senior.
But he’s been a pleasant surprise for the Gators. He leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points a game and has topped that number in eight of the last 10 games.
Sure, he still has moments when he reverts to playground antics: long-range and off-balance jumpers early in the shot clock or no-look passes that end up in the stands. But Rosario has been a key cog for a team trying to become the second in Donovan’s 17 years to make it through the season undefeated at home.
“It was a different transition because I was so used to, basically, if you give me an inch, I’d take a yard when I was at Rutgers,” Rosario said. “It was different playing for Coach Billy. It was his way or the highway. ... You have to take a leadership role and be responsible for your actions.”
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