By Mark Long / The Associated Press
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s becoming clear Florida can count on Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton in clutch situations.
Walker scored 20 points, Boynton hit three huge shots down the stretch and the Gators beat Mississippi 77-71 Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The backcourt duo scored the final 16 points for Florida, which won its fourth consecutive game and seventh in eight outings.
“We were just moving the ball, and whoever got the open look was taking it,” Walker said. “I think everybody stepped up.”
Walker topped 20 points for the third time in the last five games, and Boynton hit double figures for the sixth consecutive game.
Chandler Parsons added 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Vernon Macklin chipped in 16 points and seven boards. But Walker and Boynton carried Florida (12-3) in crunch time.
With the game tied at 61, Walker hit a teardrop in the lane, two free throws and a layup following a steal that put Florida ahead 67-63. Then Boynton hit consecutive 3-pointers, one of them a four-point play, and sank an over-the-head bank shot in the lane that made it 76-69 and essentially sealed the win with about a minute to play.
“Boynton and Walker kind of stepped up, and with the way (Chris) Warren was playing, we needed those guys to step up,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Warren, the league’s second-leading scorer, missed all four shots in the first half. He got hot after the break, though, scoring 20 points and getting the Rebels (12-4) back in the game.
Reginald Buckner (13), Terrance Henry (12) and Zach Graham (11) also scored in double figures for Mississippi, which has dropped nine of 10 in the series. But the balanced effort wasn’t enough for Ole Miss to overcome Florida’s big-play ability late.
Boynton was 6 of 15 shooting and Walker was 6 of 11 from the floor. They also combined for nine assists.
“I thought our guys had some resiliency and some resolve as the game’s going on,” Donovan said. “It’s league play right now, everything’s a grind, nothing comes easy. … That’s what you need to have happen, is guys respond.”
The Gators closed out the first half with a 14-2 run that included Parsons’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the top of the key and put Florida ahead 39-28.
Mississippi had more turnovers (seven) than assists (three) in the first half and struggled from behind the arc. The Rebels turned things around after the break, pushing the ball, taking shots before Florida settled into its half-court defense and then burning the Gators from long range. They made five 3-pointers and in the first 10 minutes of the second half and quickly turned the halftime deficit into a two-point lead.
Warren, Henry and Trevor Gaskins did most of the damage. Warren scored several different ways, including four 3-pointers. Henry scored inside, and Gaskins had consecutive 3s.
But Florida settled down, stemmed the momentum swing and then pulled away.
“We played hard, but we had mental lapses that let Florida get on runs we didn’t withstand and they won the game,” Warren said.
The Gators shot 47.5 percent from the floor, including 9 of 18 from behind the arc.
“Florida has been playing really well,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “They got a couple of huge shots. We came up a little bit short, but it certainly wasn’t because of lack of effort. I told our guys if we bring that same focus, from an effort standpoint, we’d win any game.”
Mississippi, which leads the SEC in shooting, hit 47.3 percent. But the Rebels finished with just eight assists against 11 turnovers.
Florida, meanwhile, finished with 22 assists, seven turnovers and increased confidence.
“It’s showing a lot of maturity, a lot of growth,” Macklin said. “A lot of guys are growing up. We’re not holding our heads down when things go wrong. We’re coming together as a team.”