AUSTIN, Texas -- Florida faced a pesky Northwestern State team that wanted to run the Gators ragged in the NCAA Tournament opening round.
The best Northwestern State could do was keep Florida from running away too quickly.
Third-seeded Florida kept Northwestern State at a not-so-comfortable distance before finally pulling away from the Demons, 79-47, Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center.
After answering its share of questions earlier in the week about going winless so far this season in single-digit contests, Florida seemed to want to grind one out against Northwestern State. The Gators didn't take a double-digit lead until midway through the second half.
But then Florida (27-7) began scoring in triples and Northwestern State couldn't keep up.
Gators center Erik Murphy hit a 3-pointer, guard Michael Frazier went to the free-throw line to hit three straight and Kenny Boynton nailed a 3-pointer as part of Florida's 19-1 run that put the game away in the second half.
Boynton said the Demons effort in the first half convinced Florida it had to bring more bounce in the second half.
"The main focus was energy," Boynton said. "We were giving up open layups in the first half. In the second half, we did a great job of coming out and getting stops and getting in our transition."
By the time Demons guard Shamir Davis made a free throw to break a scoring drought of more than six minutes, Florida led 68-43 with 5:46 left.
Though Florida broke through from beyond the arc, the Gators constantly won the battle inside to frustrate Northwestern State. Florida out-rebounded the Demons, 43-26, and held Northwestern State to 19 percent shooting in the second half.
"Their length is just impossible to deal with," Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. "When I walked out, I told someone 'tape does not really do them justice of the length that they have.' "
Florida advances in the South Region to play the winner of Friday's late game between UCLA and Minnesota.
Gators coach Billy Donovan said Northwestern State's tempo didn't pose a problem. Ultimately, Florida was the team that out-paced its opponent.
"We want to play fast," Donovan said. "The faster the game is, the more it's to our liking. That's the way we want to play."
Murphy scored a game-high 18 points, Patric Young added 16 and Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin each scored 11 for the Gators.
DeQuan Hicks scored 12 to lead the Demons.
Northwestern State (23-9) never led in the first half, but managed to stay close to the Gators throughout. Florida finished the half on a meager 4-0 run capped by an Murphy layup to take a 40-32 lead to the break.
Demons guard Jalan West hit a jumper to tie the game, 17-17, with 13:15 to go in the half.
Florida pushed ahead from there and went ahead 28-21 when Boynton made a 3-pointer on an assist from Wilbekin. But the Gators never established much breathing room.
Just when it looked like Florida was ready to surge, Demons guard Gary Stewart hit a 3-pointer and O.J. Evans got inside for a dunk on an interior assist from Hicks to cut the Gators' lead to 34-30.
Murphy led all scorers in the first half with 11.
NOTES: Florida entered the NCAA Tournament with a 0-6 record in games decided by single digits. ... Northwestern State had the shortest trip to the Austin NCAA Tournament site at 330 miles, but the Demons have no players from the state of Texas on their roster. ... The Demons were 0-3 against SEC foes LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas this season, all of which finished in seventh place or lower in that conference. ... Northwestern State finished the regular season as the nation's top scoring team at 81 points per game.