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Alabama vs Florida

Florida in SEC final; Alabama to sweat Selection Sunday

CBSSports.com wire reports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida finally showed it can win a close game. All it takes is for senior guard Kenny Boynton to answer his coach's challenge.

Held scoreless for the first 25 minutes, Boynton had 11 straight points during a critical 15-0 run Saturday as No. 13 Florida erased a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Alabama 61-51 in a Southeastern Conference semifinal.

Boynton said he benefited from Gators coach Billy Donovan's halftime message to him. The senior guard's second-half surge helped Florida end its season-long frustration in close games.

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"He challenged me to come out and play with confidence," Boynton said. "Honestly he did challenge me, and I think I tried to step up to it."

The top-seeded Gators (26-6) advanced to the championship game Sunday. Alabama (21-12), the tournament's No. 4 seed, will spend Sunday waiting to learn its fate from the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Most mock brackets had Alabama on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble at the start of the week. Alabama went 12-6 in conference play during the regular season but hurt its cause by going 1-5 in December, including home nonconference losses to Mercer and Tulane.

"I'll just go to sleep, wake up tomorrow and see what they choose," Alabama guard Trevor Lacey said. "Whatever they choose, we go from there."

Boynton scored all 16 of his points during a 7-minute span. Patric Young had 13 points and nine rebounds for the Gators. Mike Rosario added 10 points. Trevor Releford scored 12 points, and Nick Jacobs and Lacey each added 11 for Alabama.

Alabama led 37-27 with 16:05 remaining before Florida reeled off 15 straight points over the next 5 minutes. In the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams, Florida rallied from eight points down in the final 12½ minutes to win 64-52 on March 2 in Gainesville.

That result represented Florida's narrowest margin of victory all season before Saturday. The Gators entered Saturday leading the nation in scoring margin (plus-18.9), but they're 0-5 in games decided by six points or fewer.

"We know that to win our games in the NCAA tournament, games are going to be close, so we have to consistently close out games," Boynton said.

This game featured the SEC's two best scoring defenses, with Florida (53.4) and Alabama (58.9) allowing fewer than 60 points per game. And it started out as a defensive struggle. Seven minutes into the game, Florida led 6-2.

But after missing four of its first five shots and committing four turnovers in the first 5½ minutes, Alabama's offense found a rhythm. The Crimson Tide shot 55 percent (11 of 20) in the first half against a Florida team that hadn't allowed anyone to shoot 50 percent or better this season.

The Tide stayed hot early in the second half and extended its lead to 37-27 when Releford sank two free throws with 16:05 remaining.

"We were playing good defense," Young said. "They were knocking down some tough twos, some tough threes. But we knew they can't hold that up the whole [game] because they haven't been doing that the whole year. It's been tough for them to score in the halfcourt the whole season."

That's when Boynton took over the game.

Boynton entered the day shooting just 38.9 percent, making him a subject of criticism for much of his senior season. Boynton shot 1 of 7 and scored two points Friday in an SEC quarterfinal victory over LSU, but he didn't get down on himself and maintained the support of his teammates.

"Our team loves Kenny Boynton," Donovan said. "When people watch and the ball doesn't go in the basket, it's very, very easy to point fingers and be critical. But I would say that maybe of anybody on our team, Kenny Boynton is truly loved inside of our team. He's a great teammate. He does want to win. He wants to make every shot he takes. He doesn't intentionally try to miss. But he's gone through a little bit of a tough shooting period."

That tough period might have ended Saturday.

First, the senior guard made a pair of free throws to cut Alabama's lead to 37-31. Next, he made a driving basket. Then, Boynton sank a 3-pointer. He followed that up with a fast-break layup that gave Florida the lead. Boynton closed this stunning flurry by going into the paint and making a shot off the glass that extended Florida's advantage to 40-37 with 12:02 remaining.

"My teammates found me in transition," Boynton said. "Basically, I didn't get more aggressive or anything. The floor just opened up more."

Boynton added a basket that put Florida ahead 47-40 with 9:40 left and a 3-pointer that made 50-42 with 8:11 remaining. Alabama wouldn't cut the margin below four points the rest of the way.

"This was a grind-it-out game," Rosario said. "This was a 40-minute game. Guys knew Kenny needed to step up for us in the second half. I felt he took on that challenge. When that run happened, it just fed off positive energy to all [his] teammates. I felt everyone on the team embraced that."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Kenny Boynton steps up to lead the Florida rally, scoring 11 straight points in the second half.  (USATSI)
Kenny Boynton steps up to lead the Florida rally, scoring 11 straight points in the second half. (USATSI)
Scoreboard
Alabama (21-12)282351
Florida #13 (26-6) «253661
BAMA:T. Releford 12 Pts
BAMA:M. Gueye 5 Reb
BAMA:T. Releford 2 Ast
FLA:K. Boynton 16 Pts
FLA:P. Young 9 Reb
FLA:S. Wilbekin 4 Ast

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PLAYERS OF THE GAME
AlabamaFlorida
BAMA
Trevor Lacey
FLA
Patric Young
PtsRebsAstPtsRebsAst
11521390
Alabama Crimson Tide
T. Lacey, G374-130-052311
T. Releford, G344-84-422112
L. Randolph, G302-30-14115
R. Cooper, G232-40-02046
M. Gueye, C120-20-25020
N. Jacobs, F285-71-140111
R. Obasohan, G192-40-22014
D. Pollard, F170-12-21022
A. Steele, GDid Not Play
C. Engstrom, CDid Not Play
K. Blackledge, GDid Not Play
J. Goode, FDid Not Play
D. Slaughter, FDid Not Play
I. Wilson, GDid Not Play
C. Johnson, GDid Not Play
Totals 19-427-122551551
 45.2%58.3% 
Florida Gators
S. Wilbekin, G371-42-22414
P. Young, C306-101-390213
M. Rosario, G293-63-310110
K. Boynton, G296-122-220016
E. Murphy, F-C262-72-45336
W. Yeguete, F192-62-26036
M. Frazier II, G160-30-01220
C. Prather, G-F143-40-22016
J. Kurtz, GDid Not Play
D. Graham, GDid Not Play
B. Ogbueze, GDid Not Play
D. Walker, G-FDid Not Play
B. Donovan, GDid Not Play
Totals 23-5212-182891361
 44.2%66.7% 
Southeastern
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
Kentucky0-06-012
Arkansas0-04-056
Miss. State0-04-052
Vanderbilt0-04-0194
Alabama0-04-111
Texas A&M0-04-1119
Ole Miss0-03-1292
Auburn0-03-2162
Florida0-03-289
Georgia0-03-2146
LSU0-03-250
Missouri0-03-3169
S. Carolina0-03-3161
Tennessee0-02-2189
 
Other games
USM 79 Final
MEMP 91
NCST 71 Final
UM 81
BUT 56 Final
STL 67
WISC 68 Final
IND 56
MASS 62 Final
VCU 71
MIST 58 Final
OHST 61
KSU 54 Final
KAN 70
NMEX 63 Final
UNLV 56
SYR 61 Final
LOU 78
ORE 78 Final
UCLA 69