By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
GAINSVILLE, Fla. – Short-handed Ole Miss gave No. 4 Florida its best shot out of the gate, but it was the Gators who kept on shooting and shooting.
The 16th-ranked Rebels hit four of their first first six field goals against the SEC’s top defensive team, but Florida shot 54.8 percent in the first half to build a 16-point lead at the break, and the Gators sweated little in a 78-64 win before 12,522 fans at the sold out O’Connell Center Saturday night.
It was the second-straight loss for Ole Miss after winning nine straight – six of them in conference play, the best league start in school history.
Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2 SEC) was playing its first game with key reserves Nick Williams and Aaron Jones, who account for almost 13 combined points a game.
With a couple of early 3-pointers from Marshall Henderson, the Rebels were looking to tie the game at 11 with a free throw from Jarvis Summers after he scored on a baseline drive. Summers missed, and Florida took control with a 24-5 run.
“Two players not being in their rotation really threw them a wrinkle,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Williams and Jones. “They’re good, solid role players.”
beyond the arc
Henderson hit five of his first six 3-point shots and finished with 25 points, going 7 for 11 from the arc.
“Sometimes I hit my first two shots and miss the rest of them,” Henderson said. “It definitely helps when the first couple go in. I was shooting around in warm-ups and feeling real good.”
Ole Miss also got a strong second half from Murphy Holloway, who finished with 15 points. He was 4 for 9 in the second half after going 1 for 7 in the first.
Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said the Gators clamped down on too many other players for Ole Miss to be successful.
He hoped to get 15 shot attempts from Reggie Buckner, who finished with four attempts. The biggest difference, though, was in LaDarius White. The sophomore guard was a combined 16 for 26 in the two previous games but was 2 for 10 against the Gators.
“They do a great job of taking your space and making you play on your heels,” Kennedy said. “I jut wanted our guys to battle. The reality is we’re a little bit thin, and we didn’t get the greatest of performances out of some guys that we need to carry us.”
Florida went into the game second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 50.4 points a game. The Gators (18-2, 8-0) had held opponents below 50 points 11 times. The Rebels’ 64 points were the most allowed by Florida in an SEC game this season.
Although Henderson shot 53.3 percent from the floor and 63.6 percent from the arc, Ole Miss as a team shot just 38.2 percent.
Florida’s 6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy, shooting 48.7 percent from the arc on the season, was 5 for 6 from 3-point range and led the Gators with 19 points.
“We fought and fought,” Henderson. “They just made more plays than we did when it came down to it. That’s why they will probably be a championship team this year.”