ATLANTA – Florida guard Kenny Boynton wasn't accustomed to struggling.
Boynton graduated from Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage as the third-leading career scorer in the history of Florida high school basketball. He averaged 33 points per game as a senior and was rated as the No. 12 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class.
Boynton, a 6-foot-2 guard, was expected to make an immediate impact for the Gators. He certainly never anticipated shooting just 37.6 percent as a freshman.
"That was definitely different for me," Boynton said. "I didn't know what to do. I was frustrated a lot at times. I knew in time it would come. I knew if it kept shooting, it would come.
"I didn't know when, but I knew it would come."
It's come, all right. And it's happened at the perfect time. Boynton's freshman frustration has turned into sophomore elation. He scored 24 points and was 5-of-9 from 3-point range Saturday as Florida rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Vanderbilt 77-66 in a SEC tournament semifinal at the Georgia Dome.
Florida (26-6), which won the SEC's regular-season title, meets Kentucky (24-8) in Sunday's championship game; the teams split their regular-season meetings, with each winning at home.
The big semifinal performance continued Boynton's late-season surge. Boynton was 5-of-9 from 3-point range and had 22 points – 20 in the second half – in an 85-74 quarterfinal triumph over Tennessee.
What's made the difference this season?
"It's all between his ears," Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We know what he's capable of doing. You guys just saw that. We've just to keep getting him the ball, and he's just got to stay confident.
"He's very, very hot when he gets hot."
Boynton can pinpoint the arrival of his latest heat wave.
"It was a practice before the Georgia game," he said. "We played Georgia at home [on Feb. 24]. There was a practice, and I was hitting them in practice. Ever since, it's just been clicking."
In the six games since that practice, Boynton has averaged 19.3 points while shooting 46.9 percent (23-of-49) from 3-point range. His tiebreaking 3-pointer Saturday put Florida ahead for good with six minutes remaining.
His recent accuracy from beyond the arc is particularly encouraging because he made just 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers last season. Boynton also has developed into a more complete player. He doesn't have to score 20 points to help his team win.
Boynton spent most of Saturday's game defending Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, who led the SEC in scoring this season and tallied 29 points Friday in a quarterfinal victory over Mississippi State. Jenkins managed just 10 points against Florida while shooting 3-of-15 overall and 2-of-12 from beyond the arc.
As a team, Florida was 11-of-21 on 3-pointers while Vanderbilt (23-10) was 6-of-33.
"They made shots. We didn't," Jenkins said. "That's pretty much it."
That formula might help Florida win an NCAA tournament game for the first time since claiming back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07. Florida's frontcourt depth and overall balance have made this team very good. If Boynton and backcourt mate Erving Walker continue to connect from 3-point range, the Gators could get even better.
"I think they could very well make a deep run," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "It will all come down to those guys' ability to make shots, though. I think a deep run is going to necessitate or be necessitated by Walker and Boynton being able to jump up and make shots at the end of games."
So far, so good.