NASHVILLE — If Florida basketball fans had picked the last Gator they expected to lead them back from a 10-point hole against Alabama with 16 minutes to play in their SEC tournament semifinal Saturday afternoon, it might have been Kenny Boynton.
The senior guard had zero points at that moment just one day after scoring two points in a blowout quarterfinal win over LSU.
But then Florida's Will Yeguete made two free throws, Boynton scored 11 straight points, the Gators' Patric Young hit a jumper and the Crimson Tide's 10-point lead became a five-point deficit in exactly four minutes and 35 seconds.
A little more than 11 minutes later, No. 13 Florida won 61-51 to advance to today's 1 p.m. title game against Mississippi (25-8), which defeated Vanderbilt 64-52 in the second semifinal.
"I've been on teams when a guy gets on a run, he's not a great teammate and guys really don't care that he went on that run," Gators coach Billy Donovan said after watching his team improve to 26-6.
"When you saw our team get excited, our team loves Kenny Boynton. When the ball doesn't go in the basket, it's very, very easy to point fingers and be critical, but maybe of anybody on our team, Kenny Boynton is truly loved inside our team, because he's a great teammate."
A lot of people have pointed fingers at Rebels junior guard Marshall Henderson, who so angered the Missouri team during Ole Miss's quarterfinal win over the Tigers that they refused to shake his hand.
Against Vanderbilt on Saturday he scored a team-high 23 points, just two fewer than he posted at Florida in a 78-64 loss to the Gators.
"I guess I had a good game," Henderson said late Saturday about that earlier contest. "But we lost, which is all that matters. Now we get to play them again in the championship game. We might as well win it. Get a fat ring."
Boynton's been in a fat shooting slump, especially on the road. But befitting a guy who's started 137 games of the 140 he's played, he handed out seven assists in Friday's win over LSU.
"Even when we went on that run," Boynton said after finishing with 16 points, his best outing in 28 days, "I tried to stay grounded and keep everyone together. I didn't want to get too excited and give up a play on the defensive end."
Down the stretch, the Gators gave up almost no plays. From that 37-27 deficit with 15:50 to go, Florida outscored Alabama 34-14. It was a similar rally to what took place on UF's home floor two weeks ago, when the Gators outscored the Tide 27-7 in the game's final 12 minutes to erase an eight-point deficit and win 64-52.
In a surprisingly honest answer, Alabama guard Trevor Lacey -- who backed up teammate Trevor Releford's 12 points with 11 -- admitted to thinking about that earlier collapse.
"Me and Andrew [Steele] were talking about it on the bench," he said. "When we were up 10, we were talking that we need to keep doing what we're doing .. and not let what happened happen again."
But thanks to Boynton, Young (13 points, 9 rebounds), Mike Rosario (10 points) and Scottie Wilbekin (4 assists, 3 steals), it did happen again, remarkably similar to the Gators' earlier win.
"There's a reason why they're SEC [regular-season] champions and in a position, I think, to go and try to win the national championship," Tide coach Anthony Grant said. "They're a very good team."
Especially when Boynton can score 11 straight points.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...