By: Chris Dortch
SEC Digital Network
NASHVILLE — It was one of those moments that makes a coach’s blood run cold.
After Florida senior forward Erik Murphy tweaked his knee during a practice on Wednesday, an alphabet soup of horrifying possibilities—ACL, MCL—and the thought of playing the postseason without arguably his best player flashed through Gator coach Billy Donovan’s mind.
“I was concerned because the trainer was concerned,” Donovan said. “It was really bizarre. We had just finished a stretch, and we were going through pick and roll coverage. It wasn’t even a contact drill, more of a teaching drill. [Murphy] kind of planted his foot and went to turn. He felt something, kind of a sharp pain in his knee.”
Fortunately for Murphy and Donovan’s blood pressure, an MRI on the player’s knee turned out negative. And on Friday afternoon, there was Murphy, a blue sleeve on his knee, in the starting lineup against a potentially dangerous LSU team. The game Murphy proceeded to turn in was an impressive reminder of just what the Gators would have lost had the injury been more serious.
Making 11 of 15 shots, including 5 of 7 from the 3-point line, the best stretch four man this side of Duke’s Ryan Kelly racked up a career high 27 points. Just as impressive for a guy who turned up in Gainesville four years ago as a pick and pop specialist were his 12 rebounds, also a career high, and his willingness to joust with the Tigers’ humongous Johnny O’Bryant in the post.
Murphy’s game showed how far he’s come in utilizing his rare inside-outside ability to its fullest advantage.
“It’s taken us a long time to help him with that,” Donovan said. “He’s gotten better over time where he understands what’s happening in screening action and having better awareness of who’s on him. Once he’s had an awareness, he’s done a pretty good job here of late of making himself available to catch the ball.”
It didn’t matter where Murphy caught it against LSU.
“If teams want to switch on us, we go back to him in the post because they have a little guy on him,” Florida guard Mike Rosario said. “If they don’t switch, we’ll get him on a pick and pop. For teams playing against us, if they’re late on rotations, especially to Murph when he’s spotting up, 99 percent of the time he’s knocking down that 3 pointer with his feet set.
“He’s taking great advantage of when he’s open knocking down the shots and being poised and aggressive on the rebounds as well.”
There’s no overstating the importance of having a player with Murphy’s size and touch. There just aren’t that many like him.
“He’s a matchup nightmare because if he can get a guard inside because of the switch, he’s extremely patient in there and he’s capable of making plays,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You try to run off him and double, he’s a great passer and he can get it back out to his other shooters.”
For Murphy, his big day was just a byproduct of time spent in the gym. That, and a bit of good fortune when his knee held firm on Wednesday.
“Coach has been saying just give good reps this week,” Murphy said. “Every rep is a good rep, whether it’s in a game or practice. I try to do that. [And] the shots just fell today.”