NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida’s stifling defense has been a constant all season.
But on Saturday, senior guard Kenny Boynton rediscovered his shooting stroke, which proved to be bad news for Alabama’s fleeting NCAA tournament hopes.
Boynton scored all 16 of his points in the second half and fueled a 15-0 run as top-seeded Florida rallied from a 10-point deficit to surge past Alabama 61-51 and move into the championship game of the SEC tournament.
The Gators (26-6) trailed by three points at the half and found themselves down by 10 points with 16:05 to play.
Florida coach Billy Donovan had challenged his team, and Boynton specifically, in the halftime locker room. Boynton and the Gators missed several easy shots to open the game, and Donovan didn’t like what he saw in terms of body language.
“I told him that he was a senior in college right now and it’s time to fight,” Donovan said. “He got that look back, and his motor was running.”
So were the Gators, who were able to pull away despite finishing just 3-of-17 from 3-point range. Boynton, however, hit six of his nine shots in the second half, and 11 of his points came in the decisive run.
Florida went from 10 points down to a seven-point lead with 9:14 to play.
“Coach challenged me to come out and play with confidence, and I tried to step it up,” said Boynton, who had been held to single digits in three of his past five games.
Florida’s defense was a perfect complement to Boynton’s offensive awakening in the second half. The Gators held the Crimson Tide to just 23 points.
“They’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the country all year,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
Alabama (21-12) desperately needed a win over a marquee opponent like Florida to make a serious case for an NCAA tournament bid. The Crimson Tide defeated Tennessee in the quarterfinals Friday, but their résumé is pretty blasé over the course of the whole season.
Grant was in no mood to politic Saturday or state his case to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“I don’t deal in that, don’t deal in it,” Grant said. “They’ve got a tough enough job.”
For the Gators, it’s a chance to double as SEC regular-season and tournament champions. They’ve done that only one time in school history -- 2007 when they won their second straight national championship.
“This time of year, you know, a lot of times it’s not always the team that can play the prettiest or it comes the easiest,” Donovan said. “Sometimes, it's got to be a will and a fight internally to try and make some things happen. I thought our defense continued to be better, and that was encouraging to me to see these guys battle and fight.”