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Gators school Seminoles, 68-52

Photo by Phil Sandlin

Photo by Phil Sandlin

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan is cautiously optimistic.

He's witnessed better defense, more intense pressure, physicality and athleticism -- the things that were missing from his team the last two years. But Donovan's not quite ready to call this a turnaround. Florida's next game could be more telling, though.

Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Alex Tyus scored 13 points apiece as the Gators beat rival Florida State 68-52 Tuesday night and snapped a three-game losing streak in the series.

The players called it a statement game. Donovan, though, saw a few "flashbacks" to last year, when the Gators often got mostly manhandled by physical and athletic teams.

Nonetheless, everyone agreed it was a big win for a program trying to get back to the NCAA tournament after consecutive NIT berths.

"We came out with a chip on our shoulders," guard Ray Shipman said. "Each guy is different from last year. ... We all have a different mentality. You can't compare this team to last year when it comes to toughness or soft. I just feel like we've got a new makeup."

It showed against the Seminoles (3-1).

The Gators (4-0) opened up a 20-point lead at halftime -- thanks to a full-court press and 16 turnovers -- and put the game away with another defensive-led spurt in the second half.

Florida expects a tougher challenge against No. 2 Michigan State on Friday in Atlantic City in the Legends Classic.

"I don't know how it's going to turn out," Donovan said. "I just feel up to this point in time these kids are different kids than they were a year ago. They've matured, there's a different attitude, there's a different air, there's a difference with them right now.

"How we handle adversity, how we handle Michigan State, how we handle some of the things that are getting ready to come our way, we'll wait and see."

Derwin Kitchen, a former Florida signee who never played in Gainesville, led the Seminoles with 15 points. Chris Singleton added 14.

The Seminoles, outplayed in every aspect in the first 20 minutes, came to life to start the second half. They started pressing, forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets. The result was a 19-2 run that nearly erased a 20-point halftime deficit.

But the play of the game may have been a charge. Yes, a charge.

Dan Werner stopped a 2-on-1 break by drawing a charge on Jordan DeMercy. FSU had a chance to cut the lead to 45-40. Instead, Werner's play sparked another strong defensive effort from the Gators and a 12-0 run that put them out front 55-38.

"We had three straight possessions where we made mistakes, mental errors, all three of them in transition and unfortunately it gave the opportunities to run down and they score on all three of those possessions," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "You fight hard to put yourself in that position, and then we made three poor decisions in a critical part of the game. ... It kind of took the wind out of our sails."

Florida pulled away down the stretch, thanks to a few big plays by Walker and several free throws by Boynton.

"We couldn't lose tonight," Werner said. "That was a must-win in my book."

The Gators opened the game by pressing Florida State into mistake after mistake. Errant throws, traveling calls, 10-second violations, FSU found several ways to turn the ball over. The Seminoles had twice as many turnovers (16) as shots made (8) in the opening 20 minutes.

"The difference? Guys getting tired of the reputation of Florida's name," Shipman said. "Guys getting tired of losing. Every guy was pretty tired of being called soft. ... We're going to make you run. We can jump with you. We're athletic just like you."