By the time Kenny Boynton heated up, No. 10 Florida was well on its way to another lopsided victory.
The senior guard scored the final 13 points for the Gators and put an exclamation mark on a 66-45 rout of Middle Tennessee on Sunday.
”I kind of felt it late,” Boynton said after shrugging off a slow start to score 20 points and help the Gators (3-0) remain unbeaten.
”This is one of the most physical teams I’ve played against in a long time,” Boynton added. ”In the end, we’re going to benefit from playing them.”
Will Yeguete had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Gators, who opened the second half with a 14-2 run and never looked back.
Middle Tennessee (2-1) trimmed a 15-point deficit to nine before Mike Rosario finished a fast break with a dunk and Boynton hit a 3-pointer to put the game away.
Marcos Knight led Middle Tennessee with 12 points and Shawn Jones added 10 for the Blue Raiders, who played tough, disruptive defense early and trailed 29-26 at halftime.
”Last year we won at UCLA, we won at Tennessee, we beat Ole Miss on a neutral-court game in Mississippi. So we come in, we expect to win these kind of games,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. ”Florida was too good today, and we didn’t have enough guys play well.”
Middle Tennessee returned 10 of its top 12 scorers from last season, when the Blue Raiders went 27-7 on the way to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Sunday was the team’s first game against a ranked team since a 75-54 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 11, 2009.
”We competed. We came in thinking a critical stat was going to be rebounding, and we ended up outrebounding them in the second half,” Davis said. ”That’s a good team. They’re well put together, obviously. Extremely well coached, and they’ve just got every part. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got bigs, they’ve got experience.”
The bigger, stronger Gators turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, limiting the Blue Raiders to 27 percent shooting after the break. Middle Tennessee missed seven of eight shots while the Gators were taking control over an eight-minute stretch.
Patric Young had nine points and 10 rebounds for Florida, which led by three at the half despite shooting 39 percent and not getting much offensive production from its top two scorers, Erik Murphy and Boynton, who began game needing four points to move ahead of Dwayne Schintzius into sixth-place on the school’s career scoring list.
”In the first half, their guards were really pressuring our guards, and they were out in the passing lanes, so they had the floor very, very much extended,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ”We got the ball inside a few times and our post guys did not do a great job of finishing plays, or even making plays for that matter.”
Murphy, coming off shooting 10-for-10 and scoring a career-best 24 in an 18-point win over No. 22 Wisconsin, didn’t even attempt a shot until making a 3-pointer midway through the opening half. He finished 2 of 4 with six points, well below the 19.7 he averaged in the Gators’ first two games.
Boynton, averaging 16, missed his first four shots and didn’t score until making a pair of free throws with just over a minute to play in the half.
The senior guard finished with a flourish, though, delivering three 3-pointers and two more free throws to eliminate any hopes Middle Tennessee had of rallying.
”I just thought that our flow offensively was disrupted … with the amount of contact, how physical it was. I thought in the second half we really, really made a huge emphasis to say, `OK, if they’re going to put all the pressure out there, then we’re left playing one-on-one in the post. … It was a grind-out game. Overall, I thought the presence up front in the second half was the difference.”
After their scheduled season opener against Georgetown was canceled because of poor court conditions aboard the USS Bataan docked in Jacksonville, the Gators returned home to begin with lopsided wins over Alabama State and Wisconsin, which led the nation in scoring defense last season.
Florida made six 3-pointers against the Badgers and seven more against Middle Tennessee, which was 2 of 10 from behind the arc on the way to shooting 32 percent for the game.
Meanwhile, the Gators went 10 of 17 from the field (58.8 percent) to warm up to 46.7 percent overall.
Neither team led by more than six before Boynton made a driving layup for his first field goal, then added a free throw to complete a 3-point play that put Florida up 37-28 with a little less than 15 minutes left.
Boynton finished 5 of 12 from the field, including 3 for 7 on 3-point attempts, and made all seven of his free throws.
”He’s a guy you’ve got to account for out there, even though he didn’t have a bucket or a field goal in the first half,” Donovan said. ”But in the second half, that’s what he can do. He can put together spurts like that where he can open up a game.”