GAME NOTES: Second-round action in the South Region of the 2013 NCAA Tournament continues on Friday night, as the third-seeded Florida Gators tangle with the 14th-seeded Northwestern State Demons at the Erwin Center.
The survivor will advance to Sunday's third round to play the winner of sixth- seeded UCLA and 11th-seeded Minnesota.
Northwestern State is celebrating its 100th year of men's basketball with its third trip to the NCAA Tournament after finishing the season with a 23-8 overall record and a 15-3 mark in the Southland Conference, capped off by a 68-66 win over Stephen F. Austin the conference tournament championship game. The Demons last made the tournament field in 2006 when, also as a No. 14 seed, they shocked No. 3 seed Iowa (64-63) to advance to the Round of 32.
Florida (26-7) earned the SEC regular-season title outright, and while it lost the SEC Tournament championship game to Ole Miss (66-63), its entire body of work was clearly the most impressive of any team in the under performing SEC, with a resume' that included strong non-conference wins over Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee and Marquette. Under head coach Billy Donovan, the Gators have been one of the tournament's most impressive teams, having qualified for the event 13 times in his 17-year tenure, while having advanced to at least the Elite Eight in four of the past seven seasons. Florida won a pair of national titles in 2006 and 2007.
This matchup marks the first-ever time these two squads have faced each other on the hardwood.
The Demons' calling card has been their high-flying offense, which shoots 46 percent from the field for 81.0 ppg -- ranking first in all of Division I. Despite making only two starts this season, DeQuan Hicks is the team's top scoring threat, pouring in 14.1 ppg on nearly 59 percent from the field while adding 5.8 rpg for good measure. Shamir Davis scores 12.5 ppg, James Hulbin nets 12.1 ppg and hauls in 5.9 rpg, while Jalen West puts up 10.3 ppg and is the team leader in both assists (5.2 pg) and steals (74). With Northwestern State's high-tempo offense comes vulnerability at the defensive end of the floor however, as it allows opposing teams to score 71.2 ppg.
The Gators are fortunate to have a strong offensive attack, scoring 71.6 ppg, but the biggest reason for their tremendous success this season has been their outstanding scoring defense, which allows a mere 53.7 ppg (third in the nation), and they've yielded 50 points or fewer 12 times. Erik Murphy nets 12.6 ppg on nearly 53 percent from the field while adding 5.5 rpg, and he was named to the All-SEC First Team. Right on Murphy's heels for the scoring lead are Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, who both pour in 12.3 ppg, and the three top scorers for UF have combined for 186 3-pointers. Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7) and Scottie Wilbekin (9.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.5 spg) round out the starting five, and both were named to the SEC's All-Defensive Team.
Northwestern State can certainly light up the scoreboard, but it hasn't faced a defensive team nearly as stingy as Florida, so the Demons are in for a rude awakening if they think their usually-potent style will be successful against such a gritty squad. Expect the Gators to have a relatively easy time of it in this one as they advance to the third round.
Austin, TX (Sports Network) - Erik Murphy scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds, and Florida used a strong second half to cruise past Northwestern State, 79-47, in South Region second-round action of the NCAA Tournament.
Patric Young poured in 16 points and pulled down nine boards for the third- seeded Gators (27-7), who held Northwestern State to just 15 points in the final 20 minutes of play to move on to face either UCLA or Minnesota in Sunday's third round.
DeQuan Hicks had 12 points and eight rebounds for the 14th-seeded Demons (23-9), who trailed by eight at halftime but struggled to slow down the Gators thereafter.
Northwestern State was appearing in its first NCAA Tournament in seven years after winning the Southland Conference Tournament title.