FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)—Billy Donovan taught John Pelphrey well—maybe a little too well for Donovan’s own good.
In the second meeting between the two coaches, Pelphrey and Arkansas routed Donovan and No. 20 Florida 80-61 Saturday.
“I’m proud of John,” said Donovan, whose Gators trailed by as many as 30 points in the second half. “He’s done a terrific job with these guys here at Arkansas. This is a great opportunity for him.”
Sonny Weems scored 17 points for the Razorbacks, and Gary Ervin added 15 points and six assists. Arkansas led 46-21 after a nearly flawless first half in its most impressive win of the season.
Pelphrey was an assistant for Donovan for eight years at Marshall and Florida. He left the Gators to become the head coach at South Alabama, where his only NCAA tournament appearance ended with a first-round loss to Florida.
Now in his first season as Arkansas’ coach, Pelphrey evened his record against his mentor.
“It’s no fun,” Pelphrey said of coaching against Donovan. “You understand how I feel about that guy.”
The two embraced before the game as the teams warmed up.
An alley-oop dunk by Steven Hill gave Arkansas an 8-2 lead, and although Florida scored the next six points, the Razorbacks (16-5, 5-2 SEC) were setting the tone. The Gators’ Nick Calathes appeared to have Arkansas beaten down the court for an easy layup, but Weems hustled back and swatted the shot away.
Moments later, Weems drove the baseline and dunked to start a 20-4 run that broke the game open. Ervin ended the first half with a layup after a turnover by Florida. The Razorbacks jumped around briefly at midcourt as the crowd of 19,881 roared.
“Our fan base is one of the best in the country and it was absolutely awesome in here today,” Pelphrey said. “Our team has really just played hard, especially our defense and our rebounding.”
The Razorbacks were also efficient on offense, shooting 58 percent during a first half in which they turned the ball over only three times.
As if the fans weren’t having enough fun, new football coach Bobby Petrino came out on the court during a timeout in the first half and led a rousing “Pig Sooie” cheer.
Florida lost all five starters from the team that won a second straight national title last season. The Gators have overcome their inexperience for most of the season, but they looked overwhelmed against Arkansas.
Florida (18-4, 5-2) missed its first 13 attempts from 3-point range and finished 4-of-25. Walter Hodge led the Gators with 13 points.
“There were times when we were physically overmatched,” Donovan said. “You have to give (Arkansas) credit. When they come out, they look like an NBA team physically and we look like a very mature high school team.”
Arkansas has six seniors and four players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller. After an inconsistent start to Pelphrey’s tenure, the Razorbacks have won three straight conference games, all by at least 16 points.
“We can compete with anybody if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing these last few games,” forward Michael Washington said.
Arkansas poured it on against Florida. After a scramble at midcourt in the second half, Calathes was again in good position for a layup, but Charles Thomas came over and swatted the shot out of bounds.
Weems made a 3-pointer, then Washington slammed in an offensive rebound for a 62-32 lead.
Darian Townes scored 14 points for Arkansas, and Patrick Beverley added eight points and 12 rebounds.
Calathes and Marreese Speights scored 12 points apiece for Florida. Calathes added seven assists. The Gators turned the ball over only nine times but shot just 33 percent from the field.
“As a team, you go through off nights, and you have to stay focused and play defense,” Hodge said. “That was the difference.”
Arkansas avenged a 21-point loss to Florida in the championship game of last season’s SEC tournament. This was the Gators’ most lopsided defeat since an 82-62 loss to Kentucky in 2004.