GAINESVILLE - Kenny Boynton’s final home game as a Gator ended with him wearing one of the nets around his neck as he waved goodbye to the crowd.
No. 11 Florida rolled past Vanderbilt 66-40 on Wednesday night at the O’Connell Center to win the SEC championship outright for the second time in three years. Unlike 2011, though, the Gators clinched at home and celebrated by cutting down the nets in their arena.
It was Boynton’s last home game, but he hopes to get another chance to cut down the nets if UF advances in the NCAA Tournament later this month.
“The crowd was loud, and it definitely felt good,” he said. “I definitely want that feeling again. We’ve got to keep winning.”
Boynton, a four-year starter, led the team with 15 points after being honored alongside Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario before the game.
Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC) had clinched a share of the conference title by beating Alabama on Saturday and eliminated Kentucky from the race with Wednesday’s win. It is the Gators’ sixth SEC championship, with five of those coming under coach Billy Donovan.
“Because of the attention on March Madness and Selection Sunday, a lot of people don’t pay attention to conference championships or view them as a great accomplishment,” Donovan said. “But for the people that go through the grind of a nine-week schedule with no time off and having to prepare for every game, it’s an incredible accomplishment. I was very happy they could celebrate that and share it together on our home court.”
UF also wrapped up the No. 1 seed for next week’s conference tournament and finished undefeated at home (15-0) for the first time in six years.
Despite being one of the worst teams in the conference, Vanderbilt (13-16, 7-10) stayed within range deep into the second half. Florida led by just eight points with 11:58 remaining before going on a huge run.
The Gators outscored Vanderbilt 19-3 over the next five minutes to take a 56-32 lead.
Donovan was not completely pleased with Florida’s performance but held his concerns and allowed his players to revel in their victory.
“You enjoy the moment,” he said. “There’s plenty of time tomorrow to get better. These moments are never easy. It can be ugly. It can be frustrating. It’s about (persevering) and continuing to fight, and that’s what we did.
“We maybe didn’t play great for portions of the game, but certainly the last 10 or 12 minutes we really played like I hoped we could play. We’ve gotta get back to playing like that for longer stretches.”
Murphy had 10 points and added six rebounds, while UF’s third senior, Rosario, ended with five points and three assists.
Donovan pulled the senior players out together with 2:18 left in the game, and they drew a standing ovation.
Those seniors — along with Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather — were part of the 2010-11 SEC title team and are the first in UF history to win two outright conference championships.
Patric Young, a junior, scored 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and added four rebounds.