Suffering some disappointments early in the season, the Florida Gators (12-3, 1-0) started Southeastern Conference play with a bang in the form of a 77-71 win over the Ole Miss Rebels (12-4, 0-1) on Saturday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. Florida junior point guard Erving Walker eclipsed 1,000 points in a victory that saw the Gators take a large lead, give it up and still manage to win handily.
The game got off to a rocky start for both teams until Florida took off on a 14-2 run over the last 3:04 of the half to head into the locker rooms up 39-28.
Senior forward Chandler Parsons hit the Gators’ first trey of the game to give them a 28-26 lead. Walker followed with a three of his own; he stole the ball on the next possession and lobbed a terrific outlet pass to freshman PG Scottie Wilbekin for the layup. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin followed with a dunk, and Parsons hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the half strong for Florida.
Up a game-high 12 points on a dagger three-pointer by sophomore guard Kenny Boynton, the Gators quickly lost their lead as the Rebels erupted on a 13-3 run and eventually narrowed the gap to 45-43 with Florida ahead.
Ole Miss G Chris Warren, who caught fire in the second half, hit a trey to tie the game at 51. After some back-and-forth action, UF would re-take the lead permanently on four-straight points by Walker (including a floater that helped him eclipse the 1,000-point mark) to put them up 65-61.
Boynton closed out the game for the Gators with a four-point play, three-pointer off a missed trey and acrobatic lay-up to score nine-straight points on his own. His four-point play was his fourth this season (he’s a perfect 4-for-4 when given the opportunity), third in as many games and sixth of his career.
Walker became the 47th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points and did so while dishing three assists and turning the ball over twice. Wilbekin, Walker’s reserve, dished six dimes and did not commit a single turnover. Florida, as a team, had a 22-to-7 assist-to-turnover ratio with the trio of primary ball handlers (Walker, Wilbekin and Parsons) going 17-to-2.
Four of the Gators’ starting five did the majority of the work on the evening. Boynton and Parsons each finished with 17 points; the former added three dimes while the latter contributed seven boards and five assists. Macklin’s 16 points came on 8-of-12 shooting, and he added seven rebounds.
For the Rebels, Warren – after being shutout in the first half – scored all 20 of his points in the second period. He shot 6-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 from downtown in the second half and hit all four of his free throws. F Reginald Buckner posted the game’s only double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), and F Terrance Henry was efficient scoring 12 points and grabbing eight boards.
Florida was uncharacteristically out-rebounded 33-28 in the contest but dished 14 more assists (22-8), committed four fewer turnovers (7-11) and was safer on defense (11-17 turnovers). The Gators shot 50 percent from downtown and 80 percent from the charity stripe, two areas they had struggled previously.
Hoping to build on their third-straight victory, Florida will look to make it four-in-a-row when they travel to Knoxville, TN, to face Tennessee on Tuesday at 9 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN with live coverage online from OGGOA.