Coming off one of its worst performances of the season, Florida Gators basketball needed to get back to its winning ways and did just that, taking down the Ole Miss Rebels for the second time this season as Florida head coach Mike White began his Gators career 2-0 against his alma mater.
Florida (16-8, 7-4 SEC) proved once again that it plays much better at home, leading most of Tuesday night’s contest at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, and holding on for a 77-72 victory even though it did plenty wrong throughout the contest. Ole Miss (15-9, 5-6 SEC) did not do itself many favors in the game, but the Rebels did push the Gators late and did not let them skate to a victory like they did a couple weeks ago in Oxford, Mississippi.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Tuesday’s close win with six quick-hitters.
It was over when: Sophomore forward Devin Robinson was found wide open with five seconds left in the game and slammed home a dunk to push Florida ahead by five just a couple ticks after Ole Miss made an easy layup to cut their deficit to three. The game should have been over when freshman guard KeVaughn Allen drained a dagger three with 52 seconds to play, but the visitors kept it close with four straight points by Tomasz Gielo inside of 13 seconds.
A wasted chance early: The Gators scored the final seven points of the first half, registered a block and forced a turnover over the last 1:11 in the period but were unable to capitalize on the advantage when they returned from the locker rooms. Instead of building or maintaining their lead, they allowed the Rebels to answer back with an 11-0 run – eight points of which came from three UF turnovers – out of the gate to take a three-point lead. In fact, 23 of Ole Miss’ first 40 points came off 13 Florida turnovers within the opening 25 minutes of the game.
Significant stretch: Instead of getting down, the Gators responded with three big treys as part of a 13-3 run that pushed the hosts ahead 50-43 with 12:40 to play. If not for that run, Florida surely would have lost the game because suddenly everything went wrong.
Near-disaster: Seemingly unable to get out of their own way and getting no help from some highly questionable officiating (at best), the Gators entered a stretch of 5:17 that looked to be played on a continuous loop. It was especially rough for sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza, who missed some open threes but was also subjected to at least one quite possibly two absurd foul calls that benefited Ole Miss and its score-or-bust guard Stefan Moody. Here is the sequence of events.
6:37 – Foul on Chiozza (standing beyond the arc, Chiozza deflected a ball out of Moody’s hands that referees not only ruled a foul but a shooting foul)
6:37 – Moody makes 2-of-3 free throws
6:17 – Chiozza misses three-pointer
6:02 – Chiozza misses three-pointer
5:59 – Foul on Robinson (for rebounding the basketball)
5:59 – Rasheed Brooks makes 1-of-2 free throws
5:16 – Moody layup
4:41 – Florida turnover
4:34 – Moody makes 1-of-2 free throws
3:59 – Moody makes 2-of-2 free throws
3:39 – Chiozza misses three-pointer
3:27 – Foul on Robinson
3:27 – Moody makes 2-of-2 free throws
3:10 – Kasey Hill misses three-pointer
3:00 – Foul on Chiozza
3:00 – Moody makes 1-of-2 free throws
Starting something? Robinson was not Florida’s leading scorer Tuesday, but he was its most important player. Coming off the bench, he posted 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting with five boards, four on the offensive glass. Robinson was active and engaged and finished fourth on the team with 28 minutes, posting a team-best +18 for the evening. White said after the game that it was Robinson’s best performance this season, and there’s certainly no questioning that.
Early in the season, it appeared as if Robinson had turned a corner. He appeared to be more composed and comfortable playing college basketball within the team dynamic. But following a 2-for-7 performance against Florida State on Dec. 29, he saw his minutes reduced below 20 minutes per game. Robinson was expected to play a major role in his second year with the Gators, and if Tuesday night’s performance was a sign of things to come, perhaps White should feel pretty good about the second-year big man. “Devin Robinson was terrific. I thought it was the best game of his Gator career. He was really good. Best day Devin’s had while I’ve coached him, for sure,” White said. “He played with energy. He was flying all over the court. I was really proud of his effort.”
Scary stats: UF may have won, but it was not pretty. Ole Miss scored 28 points off 16 Florida turnovers, which are outrageous figures. White was speechless when asked about them after the game. “It’s a surprising number,” was all he could muster. The Gators also kept jacking up threes in a contest where the Rebels begged them to do so by playing zone; the players did not adjust and kept settling for low-percentage shots, which is exactly what the visitors wanted.
Also ugly was the performance of Florida’s point guards as Chiozza and Hill combined to go 4-for-17 from the field and 2-for-11 from three, though they did team up for 11 assists to four turnovers. Chiozza did hit a big three late in the game, and Hill’s acrobatic layup served as a spark for UF.
Everything else: Redshirt senior F Dorian Finney-Smith is usually the headliner and certainly did his job Tuesday, scoring a team-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting with six rebounds … Allen did his part, too, scoring 15 points and hitting a big three late despite being shut out most of the second half; Allen did, however, uncharacteristically miss three free throws on the evening, two in crunch time … redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu did his job as well, posting a double-double with 14 points (7-of-11 shooting) and 10 rebounds … Moody fouled out with 1:10 to play on a charge drawn by Robinson, his third of the game … the Gators improved to 14-0 when leading at the half of games this season
Up next: Florida will play its third-to-last home game of the season when it hosts Alabama on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on SEC Network. The Gators have beaten the Crimson Tide in 12 straight contests dating back to UF’s last loss to UA on March 13, 2008.