By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – With each passing day, there’s less mystery surrounding the postseason destination for Ole Miss.
On Saturday, the Rebels lost for the fifth time in six games, again victimized by post defense and their inability to keep opponents off the free-throw line.
Florida center Vernon Macklin had a career-high 22 points, and the Gators were 25 for 27 from the line in a 64-61 win.
A Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 7,071 watched their home team lose for the fourth time this season.
Florida’s 92.6 free-throw percentage was clearly a season high. Earlier this month, the Gators shot 43.5 percent from the line at South Carolina and 52.5 percent at home against Xavier.
Macklin was 8-for-11 from the floor. Combined with an 8 for 10 shooting performance by Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy, the two opposing centers to play at Ole Miss (17-9, 5-7 SEC) this week are 16-for-21, a 76.1 percentage.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy had hoped to use the back-to-back home games to increase the Rebels’ RPI standing and to help build a strong resume to present to the NCAA selection committee.
“It’s very disappointing, knowing that we needed these two games and basically gave them away,” said forward Terrance Henry, who led the Rebels with 17 points.
For Ole Miss, the most painful foul wasn’t a low-post bump that sent Macklin to the line, it was away from the ball, by Eniel Polynice against Chandler Parsons.
Terrico White had just hit a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 56-54 lead with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left.
Kennedy ‘Chippy, cheap foul’
Parsons hit both free throws, tying the game and robbing Ole Miss of momentum.
“It was a little chippy, cheap foul away from the basket, had no influence on the game whatsoever,” Kennedy said. “It’s like holding in football, it could probably be called every trip, but you can’t put yourself in position for it to be called. Twenty five for 27 from the free-throw line … that one statistic has been alarmingly disproportionate for us all season.”
The Rebels have been much better at protecting the basketball than defending the post, but there was cause for alarm in that category, too.
Florida (19-8, 8-4 SEC) scored 20 points off 15 turnovers. Eniel Polynice had seven turnovers, none more damaging than his giveaway in the lane with the game tied at 56 and 1:02 left.
Polynice, driving from the right and turning up and the free-throw line, had the ball knocked away by a defender. The Gators capitalized quickly with Kenny Boynton’s uncontested layup.
Based on previous production, the odds were against the Rebels when they began fouling as a comeback strategy. Erving Walker, an 80 percent free-throw shooter, was 6-for-6 from the line in the final 42 seconds.
Walker’s last free throw gave the Gators a three-point lead and left the Rebels with the possibility of forcing overtime, but White’s 3-pointer from the key was left of the mark.
It wasn’t a clean look, but few on the day were.
“It was important for us to handle their speed and quickness,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “They space you and drive it, then force you to rotate and help, and that can put you in some bad rebounding situations. We did a good job of not giving up second shots, and that was a key to our win.”