By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Two important halves did not equal a whole victory for Ole Miss against what will likely be the No. 1 team in the country come Monday.
Marshall Henderson had 22 points in the first half but was shut out in the second. Jarvis Summers had 20 points – 14 points in the second half – but No. 2 Florida pulled away for a 75-71 win before 8,140 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum Saturday.
The No. 2-ranked Gators are set up to be the No. 1 team after a Syracuse loss earlier this week while Florida survived SEC challenges from Auburn and Ole Miss.
The Rebels (16-11, 7-7 SEC) dropped their fourth-straight game.
Henderson was 7-for-14 from the floor, 5-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half. He went 0-for-6, all of them 3s, in the second half.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said the difference was not enabling Henderson to hit a hot streak early.
“They ran him off a screen, and we did such a poor job on that first possession, trying to go over the screen. He makes his first shot, and from there the basket just gets a lot bigger.”
Donovan credited Henderson for making tough shots but said the Gators (25-2, 14-0 SEC) forced him farther away from the basket in the second half.
An energetic Ole Miss performance had the Rebels with a slight rebounding edge at halftime, when the game was tied at 42, but Florida’s bigs figured into a decisive spurt to turn things their way.
Anthony Perez banked home a shot with 8 minutes, 5 seconds left to tie the score at 59.
The Rebels got a stop on their next possession, but Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin stole it right back and passed down court to Patric Young for a dunk and a 61-59 Gators lead. They embarked on a 9-2 run and didn’t trail again.
“We had untimely turnovers, dribbling off our leg, not finishing plays and obviously when Marshall doesn’t score in the second half it limits our options,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Florida finished plus-2 on the glass but gained 21 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds. Ole Miss also had 15 offensive rebounds but had just eight second-chance points.
Summers was 6-for-10 from the floor in the second half, repeatedly scoring at or near the rim.
Perez also made some shots, but the Gators’ production beyond their top three scorers was ore than Ole Miss received.
While Henderson carried the Rebels and kept them in it in the first half, his impact was off-set as Florida was 8-for-16 from the arc as a team.
Ole Miss played more man defense than it often does due in part to the Gators’ passing against the zone.
Florida shot 51.9 percent in the first half but cooled off considerably in the second. Unfortunately for the Rebels, Henderson did too.
“We got the ball to the guys that we needed to, Jarvis a couple of times. They did a better job in the second half of keeping balls alive. Our first-shot defense was better, but they just kept possessions alive, two, three or four times we’d breakdown. They’re terrific in finding the open man,” Kennedy said.