NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Erik Murphy trotted down the floor and bellowed after splashing down his third 3-pointer during top seed Florida’s 80-58 bludgeoning of LSU in the quarterfinals of the SEC men’s basketball tournament Friday.
“Woo, man,” he yelled.
The exuberance was warranted after the senior center tallied a career-high 27 points, hitting 11 of 15 shots and allowing his inside-outside repertoire to pose a frustrating matchup for the ninth-seeded Tigers.
“Shots were falling today,” said Murphy, who hit 5 of 7 3-pointers. “Whether the ball goes in the basket or not is out of your control. The coaches have actually been saying just get good reps.”
Yet Murphy’s success wasn’t a game of chance. Florida put the 6-foot-11, 238-pound “stretch” forward in optimal scenarios to create mismatches on the perimeter.
For example, Murphy could operate at the high post, set a ball screen for point guard Scottie Wilbekin and roll off to the wing.
“He would get a lot of pick-and-pops and just slide open as we rotated,” said LSU forward Shavon Coleman, who was the primary man assigned to Murphy. “Then he just gets it off.”
The conundrum: If LSU switched too slowly, Murphy was open for pitch-backs and open jumpers on the wing. If a Tigers guard wound up on Murphy, he could roll to the rim against a smaller defender.
“If he has any daylight, he’s great at getting his feet set, knocking down shots,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You try to run off him and double, he’s a great passer, and can get it back out to his other shooters.”
Murphy’s athleticism isn’t eye-catching, but his sense for how to stress defensive rotations is keenly honed.
“He wasn’t tough one-on-one in a matchup,” Coleman said. “Our rotations were just too slow today to contest shots. He had open shots, and he made them. That’s what you do when you’re a Division I player.”
The outing is more impressive considering Murphy felt a twinge of pain in his left knee this week during a drill working on covering pick-and-rolls. He sheathed the joint in a brace Friday.
“It was really bizarre,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It wasn’t event a contact drill, more of a teaching drill.”
LSU was battered on the boards for a minus-20 rebound margin, but how it happened was just as tortured.
Of its 47 rebounds, Florida guards corralled 20, including five from reserve Casey Prather. In contrast, LSU’s backcourt snagged a paltry seven.
“We’re a pretty small team,” LSU guard Charles Carmouche said. “We have to get in there, help our bigs out and come up with those 50-50 balls and just limit offensive rebounds.”
A day after Anthony Hickey struggled shooting against Georgia, attempting just one shot in the second half, the sophomore again seemed hesitant.
Hickey, who has shot 38.4 percent this season, went 2 of 4 against Florida, finishing the SEC tournament 3 of 9 for just eight points. He admitted he had settled in on trying to serve as a facilitator.
“I was looking to pass more and wasn’t trying to shoot as much,” he said. “It just wasn’t going my way.”
LSU’s 50 points make the Tigers the 13th opponent Florida has limited to that total or fewer this season. … The victory was the 101st for Florida’s senior class of Murphy and guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario.
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