BLOG — Marshall Henderson scored 22 points, Jarvis Summers finished with 20 points and Anthony Perez added 10, but Ole Miss dropped its fourth straight game with a 75-71 loss to No. 2 Florida Saturday morning at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.
Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) desperately needed a high-profile win to keep any chances of a fleeting NCAA Tournament at-large bid alive and turned in an inspired performance following a lackluster one against Kentucky on Tuesday, going back and forth with the Gators (25-2, 14-0) for the first 32 minutes.
But Florida reeled off seven straight points with 8:06 left to go up 66-59 and held on for its 19th straight win. The Gators, who will most likely be the nation’s new No. 1 team when next week’s polls come out following Syracuse’s midweek loss to Boston College, haven’t lost since a 65-64 setback to Connecticut on Dec. 2.
“We had our chances.” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I just told our team I thought we gave a winning effort, but you’ve got to make plays to beat what will be the No. 1 team in the nation in a couple of days. You’ve got to make plays.”
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators with 18 points. Michael Frazier knocked down five 3s for 15 of his 17 points while center Patric Young put in 12 points.
Ole Miss hung around despite not getting a point from Henderson in the second half. Florida, which owned the nation’s seventh-best scoring defense (58.3 points allowed per game) coming into the day, never let Henderson get free in the final 20 minutes. He went 0-for-6 in the half and missed each of his five attempts from 3-point range.
But the Rebels found enough offense elsewhere to score more than 70 points on Florida for just the third time this season. Perez and Summers combined for 22 points after halftime, and though Ole Miss lost the rebounding battle (34-32) for the fourth straight game, the Rebels did enough on the glass to keep the Gators from running away with it.
Back-to-back jumpers from Summers cut Florida’s lead to 71-65 with 2:56 left and Perez’s final bucket got the Rebels within five with 1:23 remaining, but Ole Miss didn’t score again until Martavious Newby’s desperation 3 with just four ticks left.
The loss all but ensured the Rebels will have to repeat their run to the SEC Tournament championship to be a part of this year’s Big Dance.
“I haven’t one time said we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Kennedy said. “I know that has to be in every sentence and every category, but we haven’t earned our way into that conversation, so we’re not relevant as it relates to that conversation today. This time last year, we weren’t relevant either. We’ve still got five basketball games left, and if we can win our share of those five, then maybe we earn our way into that conversation.”
Henderson was Ole Miss’ primary scoring option in the first half, pouring in all of his points as the teams went to the break tied at 42. Henderson put up his usual bevy of shots but kept the Rebels close with the 3-ball, knocking down five 3s, including one to stop a 10-0 Florida run that had the Gators up 34-24 at the time. He finished the half 7 of 14 from the floor.
The Rebels needed every bit of it to answer Florida’s hot outside shooting. Frazier hit three 3s, Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith each made a pair, and the Gators ended the half 8 of 16 from beyond the arc after hitting seven of their first 10. Florida shot 52 percent in the opening 20 minutes while Ole Miss knocked down 48 percent of its shots.
See Monday’s edition of the EAGLE for complete coverage from Saturday’s game. (February 22, 2014)