NASHVILLE -- Second-half heroics by senior Kenny Boynton led the Florida Gators to a 61-51 victory against Alabama in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday.
After being held scoreless in the first half for the second game in a row, Boynton, who graduated from American Heritage, came alive when the Gators (26-6) needed him most.
Trailing 37-27 with 16:05 left to play, Boynton took over.
He scored 11 consecutive points, leading the Gators on a 15-0 run that gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
With the win, Florida advances into Sunday’s title game against Mississippi. The Rebels easily handled Vandy in the other semifinal game 64-52.
The Championship game will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday.
For Florida, it will be the program’s eighth trip to the SEC title game, the last one coming in 2011. The Gators lost to Kentucky in its last title game trip in 2011. Overall, Florida is 3-4 in championship contests.
Boynton said he and his teammates simply responded to a challenge from his coach.
“I think coach [Billy Donovan] did a great job at halftime of challenging us as a team to come out with energy,” Boynton said. “I got two free throws going, and my teammates found me in transition.”
Boynton and the Gators trailed Alabama 28-25 at the half in a half that saw seven lead changes and five ties. But Alabama shot better and that hot shooting carried over to a portion of the second half. Donovan hopes his players learned a valuable tournament lesson.
“I’m hoping our guys, you know, were able to learn just a valuable lesson today in life. We started the game, and I really thought we were ready to play and thought we were playing very, very well, and I think in the first half we had nine missed layups right around the basket,” Donovan said.
Donovan was pleased with who led the charge back.
“You know, I was really, really happy for Kenny, personally, just to see him bounce back and to continue to have confidence and belief in himself and to play with that fire that I see him play with so often,” he said.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant made no excuses, giving Florida the credit.
“I think they’ve been the best team in the league, you know, all year,” Grant said. “You look at the way they played during the regular season. You know, they made the plays they needed to make today.”
Boynton led Florida in scoring with 16 points. Patric Young was solid inside, scoring 13 and leading the Gators in rebounding with nine. Mike Rosario also netted double digits, hitting for 10.
Florida shot 40 percent from the floor in the first half, but improved in that number in the second, hitting 48 percent of their shots (12 of 25.).
The Gators won the rebounding battled as well, grabbing 29 boards to Alabama’s 28.
Alabama (21-12) was led by Trevor Releford, who scored 12 points.
Overall, the Crimson Tide holds a commanding lead in the basketball series with Florida (73-62.)
In SEC tournament play, Alabama holds a slim 7-6 bulge now, with the Gators winning two in a row.