Florida 78, Air Force 61: Gators pull away late after lethargic start

USA TODAY Sports

Florida tightened the screws in the second half to send 2012 out on a winning note.

Floriad entered the second half up just 33-31 on Air Force at the Orange Bowl Classic. An hour later, Florida had a 78-61 victory, one that showed how good the Gators can be even when they're not at their best.

Erik Murphy had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead all players in both categories, and poured in 14 of those points in the second half en route to being named the game's MVP. Kenny Boynton (14 points, 3-of-7 from three) and Patric Young (13 points on nine shots, three blocks) joined Murphy in double figures, and the Gators got five points from each of the seven players who scored on the day.

But what made this game a pull-away win for Florida was defense, and specifically defense in the second half. After an Air Force dunk to pull within one point at 18:09 in the second half, the Falcons didn't score again until Florida had built a 43-34 lead; the Gators also limited Air Force to just five made shots until the 3:27 mark of the second period.

Air Force would finish with 30 points in the second half, scoring 11 in the final 5:38 as Florida played out the string with a double-digit lead, but the Gators had things well in hand by that point. And better offensive execution on the way to that lead kept the margin of victory in double digits, giving the Gators both their ninth win and ninth win by double digits of the 2012-13 season.

Boynton's shot returning, at least to an extent, is a welcome development, as he's coming off a stretch of five games in which he made just four of 32 threes, but his and Scottie Wilbekin's defense on Michael Lyons (11 points on 14 shots) was excellent, and keyed Florida's second half surge.

If Florida can get Boynton going again, and play defense in the second half of its season like it did in this game, this Gators team should be just fine.

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