GATORS HOLD OFF REBELS
By Chris Burrows
OXFORD If you know what it takes to win a close game, you might want to provide that information to Rob Evans. It would certainly be appreciated.
“I wish I knew the solution. Obviously, we’re not getting it done in close games,” said the Ole Miss head coach, whose frustration was obvious Saturday after his club’s 59-55 loss to Florida. “We’re making just enough mistakes to get beat and today we made just enough mistakes to end up with a four-point loss.”
The Rebels (5-9, 0-5) are 1-5 this season in games decided by six points or less. It was a disappointing start to a three-game home stand, seen by 3,532 in Tad Smith Coliseum and a regional television audience. For Florida (7-8, 2-3), it was the season’s first road win.
“Sure, it’s frustrating for me. Very frustrating,” Evans said. “But my frustration doesn’t compare to the players. They’re young and they work their behinds off in practice every day. They deserve to have something good happen.”
Something good did happen for three minutes. Ole Miss opened the game by hitting three consecutive shots from the field.
After that, Ole Miss hit only 18-of-57 shots and 8-of-18 from the free throw line. Those statistics became painfully obvious in the second half, as Florida drilled 12-of-14 free throws to make the difference.
“I thought Ole Miss outplayed us down the stretch. Nobody plays harder than they do,” Florida coach Lon Kruger said. “But our free throw shooting saved us in the end. Either team could’ve won.”
Ole Miss freshman Jason Smith (team-high 15 points) gave the Rebels a 50-49 lead with 6:07 left. Florida responded with six points from guard Brian Thompson (team-high 14 points, nine rebounds) over the next two minutes for a 55-50 edge.
That left the Gators with an opportunity to win it at the free throw line. And they did. OIe Miss pulled within 57-55 in the final seconds, but had no further opportunities to shoot.
Along with Smith, Ansu Sesay had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Rebels. Freshman guard Keith Carter, the club’s leading scorer and rebounder, had his worst offensive performance, managing only 2-of-14 from the field and 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
“I’ve never had anything like that happen to me, especially with the looks I got at the basket,” Carter said. “I had the shots. This is the most frustrated I’ve been in my whole life.”
The Gators, with 12 points apiece from Eddie Shannon and Dametri Hill, trailed only once in the final 23 minutes, setting the stage for Thompson to turn it around.
“Ole Miss is young and works hard. You have to respect that,” Kruger said. “But it’s great for us to win a close game on the road like this.”