- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- Erik Murphy snuck a look at the BankAtlantic Center scoreboard less than 10 minutes into the first half of Florida's game against Texas A&M in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic on Saturday afternoon. He was stunned at what he saw.
The 13th-ranked Gators were leading the 22nd-ranked Aggies 20-4.
"I was like, 'Wow, we must be playing some pretty good D,'" Murphy said.
Yup. Some pretty good offense, too. In fact, the Gators (8-2) were midway through what coach Billy Donovan said was their best 20-minute performance of the season. By the time it was over, Florida led 50-25, nearly matching the number of points Texas A&M had been allowing opponents to score in entire games (51.4) and holding the Aggies (8-2) to their fewest points in any half this season.
It was a performance Donovan was hoping to see after a weeklong break for finals.
"I thought the first half was the best we've played all year," Donovan said. "I thought our guards and our frontcourt guys really did an exceptional job in the first half of being disruptive and really taking away some of the post presence they've shown.
"[On offense] we shared it, we passed it, we moved it, we had inside-outside action."
Donovan was worried the Gators would have trouble handling the Aggies' long and athletic frontcourt, especially 6-foot-8 David Loubeau, 6-7 Khris Middleton and 6-9 Ray Turner. He got even more concerned when Patric Young was called for his first foul less than three minutes into the game and went to the bench.
But UF's defense was still able to neutralize Texas A&M's pick-and-roll action and caused problems with its press. As a result, the Aggies started 0-for-6 from the field in the game's first eight minutes. By the time Middleton gave the Aggies their first field goal on a layup, UF was ahead 18-4.
"We really just wanted to come out early and jump on them quick because Coach said they try to score in the first seven seconds in their transition so we just tried to start our defense early and get stops early," guard Bradley Beal said. "And when we ended up getting stops, we were pushing in transition and scoring."
While Texas A&M was struggling to solve UF's defense, the Gators were rolling on offense. UF went 7-for-12 from the field to take an 18-2 lead. Murphy, who was making his first start since he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee on Thanksgiving Day, scored seven of those points, and Beal had four.
It was pretty satisfying to get off to such a fast start offensively, Beal said, because the coaching staff had been hounding the players all week about how good Texas A&M's defense is. The Aggies entered the game fourth in the nation in scoring defense -- 6.5 points per game behind national leader Wisconsin (44.9).
"When we got the scouting report, [the coaches] told us we were going to be limited on offense because their defense is so good," said Beal, who finished with 16 points and four rebounds. "But when we spaced the floor out so well, we found that there were a lot of holes in their defense, and we got a lot of open shots and a lot of drives down the lane.
"We were just going to play our game. We weren't going to change anything. We were going to keep doing what we were doing no matter what their defense did. We were focusing on seeing how they would play our pick and rolls and everything like that, and we were trying to find holes in their defense."
The Gators finished the first half with nine assists and three turnovers, seven 3-pointers, and an 11-for-14 performance from the free throw line. The Aggies had four assists and 10 turnovers, and went 0-for-4 from 3-point range and 3-for-6 from the free throw line.
Florida could not sustain the defensive intensity in the second half. Texas A&M went 5-for-8 from 3-point range and outscored the Gators 39-34 in the final 20 minutes. But the Aggies could never get closer than 12 points. That came with 2:12 remaining, but Kenny Boynton scored the game's final nine points.
Boynton made a pair of free throws with 1:53 to play, which gave him 22 points -- his sixth 20-plus point game of the season -- and Orange Bowl Basketball Classic MVP honors for the second consecutive season.
"It's always great to come back home and have a great performance," said Boynton, who went to high school at nearby American Heritage in Plantation. "I think I played well overall but I'm more happy with the win."
And with how well the Gators played in the first half.
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.
2hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann