In this one-and-done era of college basketball, underclassmen are often the stars of the show. But the spotlight in Saturday’s Orange Bowl Basketball Classic will be on the seniors.
The biggest name on the marquee, locally at least, belongs to Kenny Boynton, the 6-2 senior shooting guard whose 14th-ranked Florida Gators (8-2) will play Air Force (8-2) at 4:30 p.m. at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
This will be Boynton’s fourth and final Orange Bowl Classic, an annual homecoming for the former Pompano Beach Ely and Plantation American Heritage standout. He leads a balanced Gators team in scoring with a 12.4 average.
“Boynton is one of the most talented players in the SEC,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “People underestimate the defense he and Florida play. They like to speed you up and turn you over.”
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Air Force, off to the second-best, 10-game start in school history, is led by 6-2 senior point guard Todd Fletcher, who leads the nation with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 8.4. He is also sixth in school history in assists.
In addition, 6-6 senior shooting guard Michael Lyons leads the Mountain West Conference and ranks 20th nationally with a 20.5 scoring average.
The first half of Saturday’s doubleheader will match Florida State (7-4) against Tulsa (7-5) at 2 p.m. It will be FSU’s fourth appearance in the OB Classic and its first since 2008.
FSU features Michael Snaer, a 6-5 senior shooting guard who leads the team in scoring (15.8). Last season, Snaer made buzzer-beater shots to defeat Duke and Virginia Tech and also earned MVP honors at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Snaer made the ACC’s All-Defense team and led the Seminoles to their first postseason title in the conference. His buzzer-beating three-pointer against Duke ended the Blue Devils’ 45-game home winning streak.
Tulsa counters with 6-4, 235-pound senior shooting guard Scottie Haralson, who is averaging 9.2 points and leads the Golden Hurricane with 27 three-pointers on 36.5 percent shooting. He shot 40.7 percent from long distance last season and is regarded as one of the best shooters in Conference USA.
Haralson, though, might find it tough to get to the rim against Snaer and the rest of the Seminoles’ swarming defenders.
Florida is also known for its defense, holding six of its 10 opponents this season to less than 50 points.
The Gators will be tested by an experienced Air Force team that features five senior starters and averages a shooting percentage of 49.2, which ranks 15th nationally. Fletcher is making 51.4 percent of his three-point attempts (18 of 35).
“If anything,” Pilipovich said, “we want him to shoot more.”
Of course, the Gators — who have made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament four times in the past seven years — represent a major step up in class compared to the teams Air Force normally faces.
Boynton has been a big part of that success. He is 2-1 in his previous OB Classic games. As a freshman, he made just 3 of 12 shots and was held to six points as No. 12 Florida was upset by unranked Richmond 56-53.
As a sophomore, he scored a team-high 15 points as unranked Florida upset No. 6 Kansas State 57-44.
And as a junior, Boynton scored 22 points, including 6 of 12 on three-pointers, as the Gators beat Texas A&M 84-64.
Boynton is closing in on a pair of Gators career records. He has made 279 three-pointers and needs just 10 more to pass Lee Humphrey. And he has 115 starts and needs 14 more to pass Andrew DeClerq.
Boynton also needs 69 more points to pass Heat forward Udonis Haslem for third place on the Gators’ career scoring list.
This season, though, Boynton’s scoring average is a bit down. He averaged 15.9 points last season, but his current average, if it holds, would represent a career low. He has made just four of his past 32 three-point attempts and is shooting 27.9 percent from long distance, down from 40.7 last season.
But Pilipovich doesn’t expect Boynton’s numbers to stay that low for too much longer.
“I think he is ready to break out,” Pilipovich said. “I just hope it’s not against us.”