Fair or unfair, there are times this basketball season the Gator Nation has been tough to please.
Losses to in-state little brothers Central Florida and Jacksonville have led to as many or more complaints as there was praise for victories against projected powers Florida State and Kansas State.
Well, this ought to make the orange and blue faithful grin again.
Delivering perhaps their finest all-around performance of the year, the Gators went into Xavier on Friday afternoon and snapped the Musketeers’ 30-game home winning streak with a 71-67 victory in the Cintas Center.
What went right?
Start at the foul line where guards Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin combined to sink 8-of-10 free throws in the final 51 seconds. In all UF (10-3) made 19-of-25 foul shots, good for a 76-percent tally and much better than the 64.7-percent the team entered the game shooting.
Two giant steps backwards, behind the three-point arc, Florida made 6-of-13, including 2-of-4 by Boynton. One of the primary culprits in the Gators’ 31.3-percent three-point shooting entering the contest was the sophomore guard from Pompano Beach, who was making barely one out of every four from deep. But against Xavier (8-4), Boynton was much more accurate, and he included a four-point play as part of his 15 points and six assists.
Walker, who entered the day as Florida’s top three-point shooter at 44.1-percent, made 3-of-his-6 attempts, including two late that were clutch and helped stretch UF’s lead further into double figures. The junior point guard finished with 18 points – each of which was needed to help offset a 26-point outing from sharpshooting XU junior guard Tu Holloway.
In the post Vernon Macklin, Patric Young, Erik Murphy and hometown kid Alex Tyus (complete with a new haircut that is sans dreadlocks) combined for 32 points and 25 rebounds. Defensively, the Gator bigs did struggle guarding 7-foot center Kenny Frease (16 points, seven rebounds), but they more than made up for it on the offensive end.
And Chandler Parsons played one of the most effective games you will ever see anybody who shoots just four times have.
The 6-foot-10 senior small forward scored five points, but netted game-highs in rebounds (11) and assists (seven), a floor game that showed he might be turning into the point forward coach Billy Donovan has envisioned him becoming. Parsons and Walker did combine for 10 of UF’s 16 turnovers, but overall, they delivered much more good than bad for the Gators.
It was one of those wins that not only could get Florida back in the top 25, it also could start a major run. After all, how many current teams outside of the UF men and the Stanford women can claim they have snapped 30-plus game winning streaks of any sort?
The confidence that comes from a victory like that can’t be ascertained immediately, though assumptions can be made. We’ll have a better idea how much this victory will benefit the Gators when Rhode Island (9-4) visits the O’Connell Center on Monday night.
For now, Gator Nation, you can feel pretty good about your basketball team.
*Walker has scored a combined 59 points in the last three games, just shy of a 20 ppg average.
*Florida has outrebounded 12 of 13 opponents this year. The Gators held a 39-31 rebounding edge against Xavier. The only team to outrebound UF so far this year has been Morehead State.
*Macklin entered the game having made just 11-of-28 free throws this year. He sank both of his attempts against the Musketeers. Macklin appeared to injure his shoulder early in the second half, but he did return.
Gator(Gr)ade: A (best all-around performance of the season only marred by 16 turnovers)
Gator Player of the Game: This is the toughest call of the season so far. Others may disagree, but I will go with Kenny Boynton, who finished with 15 points, six assists, a steal and just one turnover. He made 2-of-4 from three-point range and 7-of-9 free throws. Boynton edged Parsons (five points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 turnovers), Macklin (14 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two turnovers) and Walker (18 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, six turnovers).
Opposing Player of the Game: Junior guard Tu Holloway scored a game-high 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting and added six assists, two steals, two rebounds and just two turnovers.
Play of the Game: With 4:55 remaining in the first half, Boynton took a pass from Parsons and sank a three-pointer from a few steps right of the top of the arc. The sophomore guard was fouled by Kevin Feeney and sank the subsequent free throw to give UF a 24-20 lead. The Gators never trailed again after that.
Stat of the Game: This comes from the Gator defense, which allowed Xavier to make just 25-of-62 shots (40.3-percent).
Next Up: The Gators will host Rhode Island (9-4) on Monday, Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. The Rams have victories this year against the College of Charleston and Boston College, among others.