GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Erik Murphy has a small scar just above his right eye, a remnant of the eight stitches he needed after a recent collision with teammate Patric Young.
It's hardly the only makeover for the 6-foot-10 junior.
Murphy's game has improved dramatically this season, and coach Billy Donovan says the power forward has made an equally noticeable jump in maturity since his arrest last April. Combined, they have helped Murphy develop into a consistent scorer and reliable teammate for the 12th-ranked Gators (17-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference).
"Erik, in a lot of ways, was just kind of floating through life (last year)," Donovan said. "I think I was able to post him up, pin him up a little bit and get his back against the wall to make a decision on who you want to be as a person, who you want to be as a player, who you want to be as a student and where do you want to go with your life.
"I've seen a lot of growth in Erik in a real, real positive way."
Murphy and teammate Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine and charged with felony burglary. Donovan suspended them immediately. The State Attorney's Office later reduced the charge to misdemeanor criminal trespass, saying the players simply tried to go into another person's car without permission.
Donovan reinstated Murphy five months after the arrest, saying he had served his punishment.
"The offseason issue made me grow up really quick," Murphy said. "It definitely helped me. It was a blessing in disguise. It helped me grow up mentally, mature."
His game has shown progress, too.
Murphy is averaging 10.6 points a game while shooting 53 percent from the field. Although he leads the team with 24 blocks, he's not much of a low-post threat. He ranks fourth on the team in rebounding. But for many opponents, Murphy offers a much more challenging matchup.
He is Florida's best 3-point shooter — one of the best in Donovan's 16 seasons in Gainesville — and hitting 48.5 percent from behind the arc would be good enough to rank fifth in the country if he averaged a few more 3s a game.
"To me, the whole key to their team right now is Murphy," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He's the guy that's changed their team in every way. He's playing with a lot of confidence, too. ... He gives them some length defensively, and offensively he's so skilled. He stretches you out. All he does it make it easier for all those other perimeter guys driving that basketball."
Murphy has scored in double digits in nine of the last 12 games, coming on as Young deals with a nagging ankle injury.
It helps that Murphy is as healthy as he's been all season.
Murphy injured his right knee during practice in November. He missed 10 days of practice, sat out three games and needed extra time to get back into playing shape.
A month after he returned, Murphy took an elbow to the face in practice. He didn't miss any playing time, but his shot seemed a little off the next three games as went 2 of 9 from 3-point range.
The last three games, though, he made 8 of 14 from behind the arc.
"He definitely brings a different element because he's got great size and can shoot the ball," Donovan said. "I think Erik, a lot of times, puts you in a little bit of a bind cause of his ability to step away from the basket and shoot. He's confident in that, and I'm confident in him shooting the ball."
The Gators haven't had a big man who could shoot like this since Matt Bonner in 2003. Although Donovan has had plenty of talented big men since — Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Marreese Speights, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin — none of them was a deep threat.
"With Erik, we're able to space the floor," Donovan said. "When he's in constant movement, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense because you've always gotta account for him wherever he's at."
To get to this point, Donovan needed Murphy to make strides on and off the court.
"I think (the arrest) really forced him to do some soul-searching in terms of what was important and what he wanted to do," Donovan said. "He's responded from a lot of those adversities in a very positive way and it's made him better as a person, made him better as a player. He's becoming more and more reliable for me than maybe he has been his first two years. ... I think he's grown up and he's become much more consistent as a player."
Follow Mark Long on Twitter @APMarkLong