FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — If you ask Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker wasn’t just the best player on the floor in the first half Thursday night.
“I think Erv was the first half,” Boynton said. “I don’t feel like we could have asked for more from Erv tonight. It was his night.”
Walker finished with a career-high 27 points on 7-of-12 shooting as Florida (13-5, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) held off Arkansas (8-10, 1-2 SEC) for a 71-66 win in Bud Walton Arena on Thursday night.
The 5-foot-8 sophomore guard drained threes in the half-court offense, pulled up from beyond the arc in transition and got into the lane, carrying the Gators through the first half and coming up big when they needed him to after halftime.
“I just took what the defense gave me,” Walker said. “Sometimes in transition they left me for open looks or pressured me so much they let me penetrate, so I just took what they gave me.”
Walker was the one bright spot in an otherwise-ugly first half for both teams. There were eight ties and four lead changes before intermission, but poor shooting from the field was constant throughout.
The Razorbacks stayed in the game thanks to sharpshooting guard Rotnei Clarke, who had 17 points and five three-pointers, forward Marshawn Powell (14 points) and guard Courtney Fortson (14 points, 11 assists).
Walker’s floater in the final seconds of the first half gave UF a 28-26 lead, and the Gators came out of the locker room firing, jumping out to an eight-point lead. But Arkansas fought back and tied it up at 36 with 13:29 remaining.
The teams went back and forth from there, exchanging baskets until Florida went on a 9-0 run that put the Gators ahead 64-56 with less than three minutes remaining.
“We played a good game, but I feel like we should have blown that game open early and it shouldn’t have even been that close,” Walker said. “But it got like that, and we did what we had to do.”
The Razorbacks pulled to within four with 19 seconds left, but Walker hit two clutch free throws to push the lead to six and put the game out of reach.
UF made just two of its first 13 field-goal attempts and finished the first half shooting 28.6 percent from the field. But the Gators kept it close thanks to Walker, who scored 15 first-half points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, including three three-pointers, and made all four of his free-throw attempts.
Arkansas didn’t fare much better from the field before halftime, shooting just 10 of 27 and going most of the first half without center Mike Washington, who picked up two early fouls and got his fourth foul nearly halfway through the second half.
With Washington out, UF gained an early advantage on the boards, outrebounding Arkansas 21-16 in the first half. Power forward Alex Tyus grabbed six first-half rebounds, and forward Chandler Parsons added five.
Florida finished with 42 rebounds to Arkansas’ 29, an impressive performance for a team that has struggled to crash the boards all season, especially the offensive glass. The Gators grabbed 17 offensive rebounds Thursday night, more than tripling the Razorbacks’ total (5).
Tyus led the team with 12 boards and added 11 points, good for his eighth career double-double.
“We just really wanted to get after it,” Tyus said. “We always focus on it, but it really worked out for us today.”
UF will look to build on its two-game winning streak back in Gainesville on Saturday with a 6 p.m. matchup against South Carolina. The Gators will only have one day to prepare for the Gamecocks (11-7, 2-2 SEC).