Facing one of its toughest tests of the season, No. 4 Florida Gators basketball (18-2, 8-0 SEC) did not even blink as it shut down the No. 16 Ole Miss Rebels (17-4, 6-2 SEC) to remain undefeated in Southeastern Conference play with a wire-to-wire 78-64 victory on Saturday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.
Florida, which gave up 60 or more points to a league opponent for the first time this season, used a combination of suffocating defense and efficient offense to blow past Ole Miss and win its 10th-straight game. The winning streak matches one the Gators’ registered during the 2008-09 season and is the longest since UF won 17-straight during the 2006-07 campaign.
Senior forward Erik Murphy had one of the most efficient games of his Florida career, leading the way with a team-high 19 points by draining 5-of-6 attempts from downtown. He also registered six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.
Three of the Gators’ four starters scored in double figures with junior center Patric Young compiling a double-double of 13 points and a game-high 12 boards.
Read the rest of the Florida-Ole Miss game story.
The pent up excitement resulted in Saturday’s contest starting at an extremely fast pace with Florida taking a one-point lead on Ole Miss in the early going.
The Gators then kicked their effort into another gear by piecing together a dominant 24-5 scoring stretch capped by a 15-1 run to gain a 35-15 advantage on the Rebels with 5:52 left in the opening half.
Over the next four minutes, Ole Miss exploded on a 10-0 run of its own fueled by consecutive triples from G Marshall Henderson, who hit five of his first six attempts from beyond the arc. Florida, however, was able to drain a few baskets before the break and took a 13-point lead into the locker rooms.
The teams also traded baskets to open the second half with the Gators finally getting to the free throw line for the first time in the contest with 15:52 left in the game. Young laid in a perfect lob from redshirt senior G Mike Rosario but also got hit on the arm and netted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Young’s efforts in the paint, coupled with some hot three-point shooting, fueled a 15-4 scoring stretch for Florida that bumped its lead up to 23 with 13 minutes remaining.
The Rebels were resilient and strung together a 13-3 run that cut their deficit to 13 points. However, a three by Murphy with 6:53 to play quickly silenced Ole Miss’ comeback hopes and gave UF all the momentum once again.
The Gators improved to 10-0 at home on the season. Florida’s 14-point margin of victory on Saturday was its smallest in SEC play, but UF is defeating league opponents by an average of 26.5 points through eight contests.
Henderson provided most of the Rebels’ offense, hitting seven triples for a game-high 25 points despite looking frustrated at times.
Rosario registered 14 points, four boards and three dimes for the Gators. Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 13 points to go along with seven assists, a block, two steals and top-notch defense on Henderson throughout the contest.
Senior G Kenny Boynton, who struggled from the field (3-for-13) and downtown (1-for-7), amassed just nine points but more importantly a career-high 10 assists.
Florida was called for nearly twice as many fouls as Ole Miss (19-10) over the course of the evening and only took three free throws compared to 21 for the visitors. The Gators registered a slight rebounding advantage (34-33) but appeared at times to move the ball effortlessly as they had 23 assists on 32 made baskets.
UF had an obvious early advantage in the paint and outscored Mississippi 34-20 on the interior while also earning a edge in bench points (10-2).
The Gators will hop back on the road in three days as they travel to Arkansas for a primetime game set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. The contest will air live on ESPN as part of a national doubleheader.