NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Erik Murphy had a big grin on his face and a guitar in his hands late Friday afternoon as he participated in a promotional video shoot with teammate Patric Young.
Murphy and Young were still sweaty and in their uniforms as they goofed around in the fog from a smoke machine shortly after Florida’s 80-58 win over LSU in an SEC quarterfinal.
Murphy didn’t mind lingering around as his teammates started to scatter from the locker room. Forty-eight hours earlier the senior forward had serious doubts about whether he had played his final game for the Gators.
“Nothing, barring something really crazy, is going to hold me back from playing right now,” Murphy said. “That was a little scare, but it will take more than that.”
The scare came early at practice Wednesday as the Gators worked through pick-and-roll coverage drills. Murphy felt a sharp pain in his right knee.
Immediately, he envisioned a worst-case scenario like a year ago, when he missed three games and was limited off the bench in two others after a meniscus injury in the same knee.
Murphy was checked out by trainer David “Duke” Werner at practice and wanted to try and return. But there was too much pain. He couldn’t jump off the knee as it tightened up and limited his mobility.
“He got emotional,” Werner said Friday.
“It was scary,” said teammate Will Yeguete, who saw Murphy’s reaction at practice.
Murphy later left practice to have X-rays and an MRI on the knee. Then he had to wait. Finally, around 11:30 Wednesday night the Gators received the news they wanted. The tests came back clean. Murphy’s final diagnosis: a knee contusion.
“I was concerned because the trainer was concerned,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It was really bizarre.”
Murphy went through non-contact drills at practice Thursday before the team’s departure for Nashville. He said he made sure to rest Thursday night and took some Advil for the slight swelling and pain.
Wearing a protective sleeve on his right knee, Murphy was the one inflicting pain Friday, most notably toward any defensive strategy LSU coach Johnny Jones devised. Murphy scored a career-high 27 points, tied his career high with 12 rebounds, and made 11 of 15 shots in Florida’s 22-point victory over the Tigers.
Murphy’s 27 points ties the third highest total by a UF player in the SEC tourney, trailing only Anthony Roberson’s 35 points against Vanderbilt in 2004 and a 31-point performance from Kenyan Weaks against Auburn in 1998.
Murphy also joined Florida’s 1,000-point club, his 27 points giving him exactly 1,000 for his career, the 49th player in school history to reach that milestone.
“He’s a nightmare matchup,” Jones said. Or as Tigers senior guard Charles Carmouche said: “He kind of put the defense on their toes.”
Murphy is also playing some of the best basketball of career, posting back-to-back double-doubles after not having one all season.
Murphy was effective from the beginning Friday, giving the Gators a lead 15 seconds into the game with his first basket. He added another early basket to put Florida in front 8-5 and by halftime had 15 points and nine rebounds as Florida led 43-28 at the break.
“Shots were falling,” Murphy said. “I felt good, so that always feels good.”
Jones praised Murphy’s ability to recognize matchup advantages and capitalize on them. Donovan said Murphy’s basketball IQ has improved each season and is now one of Murphy’s strengths along with his soft shooting touch from outside.
“It’s taken us a long time to help him with that,” Donovan said. “I think he’s got better over time where he understands what’s happening in screening action and having a better awareness. He’s done a pretty good job here of late making himself available to catch the ball.”
Murphy’s big game helped offset a cool shooting game for fellow senior Kenny Boynton, who finished with only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Boynton did have a team-high seven assists and has confidence in Murphy’s ability to carry the Gators like he did Friday.
“He established his presence,” Boynton said. “That created things for everyone. It makes us tough.
“The other team, you have to switch on Murph. It makes it mind-boggling for the team when Murph is hitting 3s. Murph creates a mismatch every time he’s on the floor.”
Murphy was just glad to be back on the floor. Two days earlier he wasn’t sure he would be.
“I obviously try not to focus on it when I’m playing,” he said. “It didn’t bother me today. It didn’t swell up or anything serious, so it was just a little scare. I just wanted to be cautious. It’s fine and doing better.”
Needless to say, so is Murphy’s jump shot.
— GatorZone.com senior writer Chris Harry contributed to this report.