Murphy over illness, lights up Badgers

Murphy over illness, lights up Badgers

It was a migraine headache that kept Erik Murphy out of practice on Monday and put his status for Wednesday in doubt. The rest of the No. 10 Florida team might need to suffer from the same. The senior forward played his best game at Florida, tying a career high with 24 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the field while adding eight rebounds as the Gators cruised to a 74-56 win over No. 22 Wisconsin.

"He was doing everything tonight," Florida center Patric Young said. "He was Mr. Versatility – pick-and-pop, three-point line, post moves. I was impressed. I didn't even want the ball. Just keep giving it to him."

That was the theme of the offseason for Erik Murphy. He shot 42.1% (59-140) from behind the three-point line last season. There was never any doubt about his shooting ability. He needed to develop more of an offensive game in other areas.

So he worked hard.

He spent time in the offseason trying to become more versatile. Wisconsin felt the brunt of it on Wednesday. Murphy scored in the paint with hook shots, hit midrange jump shots and even scored on put backs on offensive rebounds.

"That was something I tried to work on in the coaches — catching it and having a more versatile game to be better down low," Erik Murphy said after tying his career high of 24 points, previously set against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament last year. "I had some more looks in this game and they fell."

Donovan pointed to Murphy needing to improve his post offense in the offseason. Whenever the Florida offense produced a mismatch and had Murphy posting up a smaller defender, his offense struggled. It would lean on fade away jump shots against smaller players instead of being able to lower his shoulder and get to the rim.

He did that early and often against the Badgers on Wednesday. The Gators rode Murphy to a 43-31 lead at halftime, as the senior scored 16 first-half points.

"He was aggressive and physical. They couldn't stop him. Everything he threw up, it was going in."

The Gators ran their pick-and-rolls at the top of the key with Kenny Boynton or Mike Rosario handling the ball. The Wisconsin defense became so focused on taking away center Patric Young in the paint that they left Murphy alone.

"We worked on how we were going to cover the bumps at the top," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I don't hang my players out, but the thing that we worked on (defending Murphy), we did the opposite."

Murphy helped the Gators rush out to a 9-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. It was a comfortable lead around ten points for Florida throughout the first half, and a 7-0 run to start the second half helped put the game out of reach. After the first few minutes of the game, there weren't many nerves on the Florida bench.

The Gators rode a hot streak in the first half that helped them shoot 75%. With three minutes left in the first half, Florida was shooting 81.8% (18-22) from the field.

"It was unreal," Young said. "I was like, ‘do they even need me out here?' It'd be cool to do that every game. I don't see anybody stopping someone that's shooting 75% from the field."

Meanwhile, the defensive lockdown was on. The Gators played strong defense for the third time in regular season games this year after Donovan jumped them for their effort in the exhibition game.

Wisconsin shot 35.6% in the game, while the Gators dominated the rebounds 40-21. The strong defense came from mixing up the types of defenses Florida ran.

"They're very good offensively in what they do," Donovan said. "As good as they are in half court offense and how they execute, I just felt like it would be important to not let them get into any type of flow—try to be disruptive, try to change pace and try to change looks. We tried to switch and sometimes not, while trying to keep them off balance."

The only negative for Florida was in the turnovers. The Gators turned the ball over 20 times, including 12 in the first half. Against a slow-paced Wisconsin team, Donovan wasn't as angry about the turnovers as he normally would be.

He encouraged a frantic pace. The Gators played some full court press defense in the first half to try speeding up the Badgers, so an increase in turnovers were acceptable as long as the Wisconsin pace also picked up throughout the game.

"This was a game where we needed to play chaotically with great energy," Donovan said. "We needed to play as fast as we could, press, trap and run around. I give our guys credit because, without a lot of subs, those guys battled through fatigue."

The Gators played just six players — the starters and Michael Frazier — for more than five minutes. With Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and Casey Prather (concussion) out, he didn't have much of a choice. Kenny Boynton played 37 minutes but Mike Rosario led the team with 39.

"I told those guys they have no choice," Donovan said. "I said, ‘listen, you have to fight through this right now.'"

Donovan said that Prather had an MRI on Wednesday to make sure everything was okay, and it came back clean. He still isn't expected to play on Sunday against Middle Tennessee State in Tampa. Donovan said he would have a better idea about Wilbekin's situation on Thursday.

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