BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – No amount of Tad Smith magic dust could offset the sizzling Florida Gators on Saturday night.
Florida, respectable in the first half with a 41.7 shooting percentage, hit 14 of its first 20 field goal attempts in the second half to run away from Ole Miss 81-66 before a crowd of 6,548 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Ole Miss, competitive for a half, was subdued quickly in the final 20 minutes, as the once No. 1-ranked Gators won for just the second time in six Southeastern Conference games. Florida shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half.
The Gators were playing for the second time without Christian Drejer, a starter and pivotal part of their offense, who announced this week that he was leaving to join a professional team in Spain.
“This is one win,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I'm not of the mindset that everything is resolved. This was a good win against a team that plays excellent at home.”
The loss snapped a string of four Tad Smith wins for Ole Miss, which had not lost here since falling 61-54 to Mississippi State on Jan. 7. The home loss is a blow to a team that has yet to win an SEC road game and is trying to play itself into position for a postseason tournament berth.
While Florida got hot, the Rebels' own inability to score further complicated things. Ole Miss shot 33.3 percent in the first half and didn't rise above the 40 percent mark until the game was well out of hand.
The Rebels trailed 67-51 when Justin Reed fouled out with 5 minutes, 6 seconds to play on a technical foul. He finished with 20 points on 9-for-16 shooting.
Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said the official told him Reed drew the foul “for something he said.”
Reed said the foul was never explained to him.
“I was discussing a foul with my teammate, and the next thing I knew I was given a technical. He (official) just told me to go back by the bench,” Reed said.
It was only after Reed exited and the Gators were leading 71-53 that Aaron Harper hit two of his three 3-point attempts. Harper, the other half of the must-score duo, finished with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
Florida's Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, each with 24 points, made sure they were the scoring duo that mattered.
The Rebels (12-11, 4-8 SEC) held Walsh to eight points and Roberson 10 in the first half.
Barnes said he expected the Gators (15-8, 6-6) – who had an extra day to prepare after a Tuesday night loss at Georgia – to play strong in the face of adversity.
“These guys can score. We knew we were going to have to play as well as we were capable, and we didn't do that, especially defensively in the second half. We were going to have to have a great defensive game, and we did for a half,” Barnes said.
“But we have to keep this in perspective. This is not Arkansas State we just lost to.”
A respectable first half could have been closer than the 29-23 deficit pinned to Ole Miss had the Rebels shot better than 1-for-6 at the free throw line or 10-for-30 from the floor.
Harper converted a steal into a layup with 4:14 left in the half for a 23-22 Ole Miss lead.
But the Gators held the Rebels scoreless the rest of the half and took control when Roberson sank three free throws less than a minute into second half.
“In the first half Ole Miss did a great job of taking us out of our offense,” Donovan said. “I was very pleased that we were up by six. In the second half, Roberson and Walsh stepped up and made some big shots.”