When Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich’s 20-year-old son found out his dad’s team was playing 14th-ranked Florida this season, his initial reaction was, “Why?”
In a way, the young man knew what he was talking about, because the Gators pulled away in the second half Saturday night to defeat Air Force 78-61 in the nightcap of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic doubleheader at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
The Gators (9-2) led just 33-31 after the first half, when the Falcons (8-3) shot 47.8 percent. But Florida’s defense, which ranks third in the nation in points allowed (51.3), stiffened in the second half, holding Air Force to 33.3 percent shooting.
“That’s a very good Florida team,” the elder Pilipovich said. “We knew they’d come out sharper in the second half.”
Erik Murphy, Florida’s 6-10 senior forward, was named the game’s MVP after he scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, a steal and no turnovers.
Teammate Kenny Boynton, a 6-2 senior shooting guard playing in his fourth and final OB Classic, went out on top. He was held to three points in the first half but finished with 14.
Boynton entered the game in a 4-for-32 shooting slump from three-point range, but broke out with three made shots from distance in an eight-minute span of the second half.
“This is not the first time Kenny has gone through something like this,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said of the slump. “What I always tell him is to take good, available shots. When he does that and makes a couple, then he can take more difficult shots.”
Boynton’s only first-half basket came on a three-point play in which he drove the lane, got fouled and made a short bank shot.
To his credit, Boynton never seemed to force the action, getting three assists and just one turnover, often driving and dishing to open teammates.
For the game, he made 4 of 10 shots, including 3 of 7 on three-pointers.
“I just tried to make sure I let the game come to me,” Boynton said. “I watched a lot of film with Coach Donovan, and we saw that a lot of shots that I had been taking [during the slump] were contested or with a guy running out on me.”
Besides Murphy and Boynton, the other Gators player who scored in double figures was forward Patric Young, who had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Most of his damage was done in the post.
Donovan also praised guard Scottie Wilbekin for his defensive effort on Air Force’s Michael Lyons, who entered the game ranked 20th in the nation with a 20.5 scoring average. Lyons was held to 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Much of the attention in the postgame news conference centered on Boynton, the hometown hero who played his high school ball at Pompano Beach Ely and at Plantation American Heritage.
“It’s been a good career,” Boynton said when asked to reflect on his time at Florida. “Every year, I’ve learned more. My goal is to get as far as we can and help my team in the NCAA Tournament.”
Boynton left high school with a lot of media members speculating he might follow prep rival Brandon Knight as a “one-and-done” player, leaving college quickly for a shot at the NBA.
That type of talk upset Donovan.
“It’s unfortunate and unfair that people put these type of expectations on kids,” Donovan said. “Whether he has a 10-year career in the NBA remains to be seen. Not every player’s game translates to the league.
“But Kenny is going to probably leave here as our all-time leading scorer and one of the greatest players in the history of the program.”
Murphy said he’s glad Boynton decided to stay all four years.
“We all have the utmost respect for Kenny,” Murphy said. “He came in with a lot of hype. He probably could have left any year he wanted to, but he stuck around, and that says a lot that he wants to be with this team. We all love Kenny.”