Boynton erupts, sparks Gators to SEC finals

Published on Saturday, 3/16/13, at 8:15 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

This had nothing to do with redemption, nor did it have anything to do with silencing critics or proving any sort of point. All Saturday represented was another day at the office for Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton, one of the greatest to ever lace ‘em up for the orange and blue.

Boynton has been a terrific defender since the day he arrived in Gainesville from Pompano Beach. Ask former BYU first-team All-American Jimmer Fredette about Boynton’s ferocious defense.

In the Sweet 16 round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, I sat two rows behind BYU’s bench. I watched Boynton use his muscle, quickness and intensity to keep Fredette scoreless for the first 13 minutes.

I was right there zoned in on the Boynton-Fredette matchup every single possession. The Gators would win 83-74 in overtime thanks to 17 points and five assists compared to two turnovers from Boynton. Fredette missed 12 of his 15 attempts from 3-point range because Boynton was in his grill for nearly every launch.

Fredette would end up scoring 32 points thanks to free throws, the extra session and several baskets in transition. But he made only 11-of-29 shots from the floor and Boynton forced him to commit six turnovers. In OT, Fredette was worn out and ineffective, while Boynton delivered the dagger with a deep trey.

My point is that Boynton has been the difference for UF in countless games even when matched up with one of the country’s best players.

Yes, he is a streaky/inconsistent shooter and pundits are always poised to point this out.

But he’s not selfish, never has been. The only knock on Boynton’s game is a shaky shooting percentage, especially this season when he had made only 38.9 percent of his shots from the field going into Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinals matchup against Alabama.

But Boynton’s senior campaign hasn’t been anything close to resembling the way Brett Nelson lost his shot, confidence and entire game during his senior year. Boynton has continued to play hard at both ends and has dished out 96 assists compared to only 36 turnovers. And, oh yeah, he passed Gator legend Andrew Moten (1984-1987) as UF’s second all-time leading scorer.

Nevertheless, plenty of critics have been on Boynton’s case for a lack of scoring lately. When Alabama led Florida 28-25 at halftime Saturday and Boynton was scoreless, head coach Billy Donovan challenged his senior leader to fight through his shooting slump and to play with confidence.

Boynton responded. With ‘Bama leading by eight, Boynton drained a pair of free throws. Next, he pulled down a defensive rebound and darted down the court to score a layup in transition. Then he splashed the nets from 3-point range. A run of nine straight points was capped by a leaner in the lane that he kissed home off of the glass to give UF the lead.

Suddenly the Gators had energy. The bench went nuts watching Boynton explode. When he stroked another trey with 8:11 remaining, UF led 50-42 and stayed in control the rest of the way in collecting a 61-51 win. The Crimson Tide took the cash, though, as an 11.5-point underdog.

The 10-point win was the narrowest margin in a Florida (26-6 straight up, 16-13 against the spread) victory this season. That’s right, the Gators have won all 26 of their games by double digits.

With that in mind, most books opened UF as an 11-point ‘chalk’ for Sunday’s SEC Tournament finals matchup against Ole Miss in Nashville. The total opened at 138.

At long last, Ole Miss (25-8 SU, 16-12 ATS) is going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 during the Rod Barnes Era. And I’m happy for Andy Kennedy, who has always recruited well and has produced several 20-win campaigns, but until now he has been unable to get the Rebels to the Big Dance.

That will change on Sunday. Following an incomprehensible loss at Mississippi St. two weeks ago, Ole Miss bounced back to beat Alabama, LSU, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Friday’s win over Missouri was the big one. Saturday’s victory over Vandy removed all doubt.

Kennedy appears to have reigned in Marshall Henderson a little bit, and that’s a good thing. As I’ve said all year, Henderson gives you a chance every night. But he too often takes terrible shots and he should pass the ball more.

Finally, in last Saturday’s 81-67 victory at LSU, Henderson produced one of his most efficient games. The juco transfer who started his career at Utah made 6-of-13 shots from the field and hit 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Most importantly, though, Henderson dished out five assists compared to only one turnover. He also had five steals.

Ole Miss rallied from a 13-point deficit to win a 64-62 decision over Missouri thanks to Derrick Millinghaus’s game-winning jumper with 1.1 ticks left. The Rebels won outright as 4.5-point underdogs, hooking up money-line backers with a +170 payout (risk $100 to win $170).

Henderson finished with 27 points against the Tigers.

In the second half Saturday against Vandy, Ole Miss pulled away to win by a 64-52 count as a four-point ‘chalk.’ Henderson scored a game-high 23 points, while Reginald Buckner produced 15 points and nine rebounds.

The Gators and Rebels met just once this year in Gainesville, where UF collected a 78-64 victory. However, Ole Miss covered the spread as a 17.5-point underdog. The 142 combined points went ‘over’ the 134-point tally.

Erik Murphy drained 5-of-6 shots from 3-point land on his way to scoring a team-high 19 points. Patric Young had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Henderson scored a game-high 25 points in the losing effort, hitting 7-of-11 treys.

The ‘over’ is 15-10-1 overall for the Rebels, but they have seen the ‘under’ go 3-1 in their last four contests.

The ‘under’ is on a 7-2 run in UF’s last nine games. The Gators have seen the ‘under’ go 15-11 overall.

Tip-off for the SEC Tournament finals is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–As of early Saturday night, most books had Miami favored by two over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament finals. The Hurricanes advanced to their first ACC finals by beating North Carolina St. 81-71 as two-point favorites. The Tar Heels advanced but failed to cover in their 79-76 win over Maryland as 4.5-point ‘chalk.’

–Most spots opened VCU as a one-point favorite for Sunday’s A-10 Tournament finals matchup against Saint Louis. However, as of early Saturday evening, most books had adjusted the number and had the Billikens as 1.5-point ‘chalk.’

–Most deserving bubble team in that last-four-in-or-out mix: Boise St.

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