The first half of Florida's 66-45 win over Middle Tennessee State in Tampa on Sunday was an ugly, scrap-heavy 20 minutes of basketball. Florida's Will Yeguete, with heart and hustle for days, ruled that period.
The second half followed a more standard "good team beats less good team" script, and Kenny Boynton, who has been lethal to so many lesser teams in his Gators career, was the perfect person to write today's ending.
Yeguete had 11 points and 13 rebounds, getting his double-double with more than 13 minutes to go in the second half, and Boynton finished with 20 points to lead all scorers after pouring in 18 in the second half. Those two players carried the Gators, who lost Patric Young to foul trouble early and never fully established him (four shots), shot poorly from both beyond the arc (7-for-21) and the foul line (17-for-29), and generally looked happy to win a rock fight until defense fueled offense and Boynton got hot in the second half.
The best takeaway from Florida's play this season is that defense, which hasn't allowed a foe to score more than 56 points yet. That's atypically good work from a Billy Donovan team, which usually relies on its superior offensive execution to beat teams, especially early in the year.
But with a starting lineup that is exclusively upperclassmen — Young and Yeguete are juniors, while Boynton, Rosario, and Erik Murphy are seniors, and all five players have been in Gainesville for three years — these Gators appear to have bought into the idea that it is easier to win games when you don't have to score as many points to do so, and that defensive effort can make that happen.
That's a very, very good mentality for a team to have. Let's hope it endures.