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Florida rallies to reach SEC final

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE -- Florida has so many killer perimeter players with the same skill set that it's hard to distinguish who is the best.

Unless the best he reveals himself in critical moments, as senior Kenny Boynton on Saturday afternoon.

Boynton scored 11 consecutive points in a 13-0 second half run that lifted the Gators from a 10-point deficit and toward a 61-51 SEC tournament semifinals victory over Alabama in Bridgestone Arena.

Florida (26-6), the league's regular season champion, advanced to Sunday's noon championship game against either Ole Miss or Vanderbilt. The Gators have won the SEC tourney three times.

It appeared they might not get a shot in the final until Boynton scored all of his game-total 16 points in the final 15 minutes. He confidently slashed through traffic to the basket and didn't hesitate on catch and shoot 3-pointers.

"Coach (Billy Donovan) challenged us at halftime to come out and play with more energy," said Boynton, who scored 11 points in a 13-0 Florida run that erased a 10-point run.

His outburst energized his teammates, such as center Patric Young. "I don't know if I got that more aggressive," Boynton said. "It seemed like the floor just opened up more."

Young, who had 13 points and nine rebounds while not being a main scoring option on a team of outside gunners, was dominant in Florida's closing kick.

He scored six straight points, including a steal and dunk, to push the Gators' lead to double-digits with 3:22 left, then drew a charging foul from Alabama's Retin Obasohan with 1:22 left.

"Kenny played with the fire that got us going," Donovan said. "He hit a couple of free throws and got hopped up on confidence and our team followed.

"Of anybody on our team, Kenny is truly loved. His intentions are always good. I personally was very, very happy for him. I told him at the half, 'You're a senior' it's time to fight.'"

Guards Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey led Alabama (21-12) with 12 and 11 points respectively. Lacey made half of the Tide's six three-pointers, but the Gators' Boynton held Lacey scoreless in the final 10:25.

"You've got to give Florida credit," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "They've been the best team in the league all year. Boynton really stepped up and made plays, and their defense tightened up and allowed them to get out in transition."

Alabama matched Florida almost shot for shot through the game's first five minutes. The Tide's combination of Releford, Lacey and Levi Randolph countered Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin fastbreak for fastbreak, penetration for penetration.

That meant the X factor had to come from someone else other than the guards, and that guy was Alabama forward Nick Jacobs.

Jacobs, a 6-9 sophomore who has almost 20 pounds during the course of the season, gave Alabama a finishing inside presence that Florida didn't possess.

The Crimson Tide shot 55 percent from the field in the opening half.

When Alabama held a 28-25 halftime lead, Jacobs had already scored nine points off the bench, more than Florida starting forward Erik Murphy.

Murphy, who had a career-high 27 points in Friday's quarterfinal win over LSU, had 4 points in the first half vs. Alabama, and finished with six.

The Gators made it a point to go to Murphy early in the second half, but he never got untracked. When Releford's two free throws gave Alabama a 37-27 lead with 16:05 left, the Crimson Tide felt confident.

"I was telling Andrew Steele on the bench we just had to keep attacking and make plays," Lacey said. "We didn't need to let happen what happened to us."

NOTES: The loss by Alabama most certainly knocked the Crimson Tide off the NCAA tourney bubble and into the NIT. When coach Anthony Grant was asked postgame to make a case for his team to get an NCAA tourney invite, he declined. "I always live in the present," he said. "I don't look forward." ... Florida is the top seed in this tournament for the fourth time. The other three times, it won the title in 2007 and was runner-up in 1989 and 2011.
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