The Florida Gator men’s basketball team improved its win streak to a whopping 19 games on Saturday as they took down the Ole Miss Rebels 75-71. As what’s been the story for this Gator team all season, the second half went a lot better than the first, and that just may be the team we can expect for the rest of the season.
Saying the team played bad in the first half would be wrong, any time a team can score 42 first half points, you would call it a success. However, the problem arises when you allow just that same amount. The 42 points the Rebels scored in the first half was the highest point total the Gators had allowed all season in one half.
The Gators all year have been one of the best defenses in the country allowing an SEC low 58 points per game and thanks to senior star shooter Marshall Henderson, that number was easily bested. He began the game shooting 7-14 from the field and 5-11 from three. In a pre-game press conference on Friday, Florida head coach Billy Donovan said Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy will design plays specifically for Henderson and the staff makes it a point to get him the ball.
The only problem for the Rebels and their hot start was the Gators shot an even better percentage in the first half. The Rebels shot 48 percent from the field and 46 percent from three in the first half while the Gators shot 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. With freshman point guard Kasey Hill absent for the second straight game, the Gators were looking for other guys to step up.
Sophomore guard DeVon Walker who was averaging just under three points per game coming in nailed two early three’s for the Gators and finished with seven points, a couple steals and an assist. Redshirt sophomore Dorian Finney Smith who has been in quite a slump hit an early three and made a small contribution overall finishing with five points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Gators had a couple guys with hot hands on the night, but usual suspects if you follow Gator basketball. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin shot 6-12 from the field and 4-10 from beyond the arc finishing with 18 points while sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II shot 5-12 from the field and 5-10 from three, and keep in mind, all of this with a sprained wrist he suffered Wednesday night against Auburn. Needless to say it didn’t affect him very much.
The Gators began the game shooting 7-10 from three and that hot start was vital with the first half Henderson had. Going into the half tied at 42 might have actually been okay with Donovan after his team found themselves trailing at the half in their previous five games.
In the second half the Gators did the exact thing they’ve done all year, outplay their opponent. The defense we have seen from Donovan’s squad all year emerged and made it clear Henderson would not repeat his success he found in the first half. After the game, Donovan talked about the things he noticed from his team in the second half.
“I thought our defense was better, our energy was better, and overall our effort was a lot better in the second half.”
If there was one other Gator that played a huge contribution to the team’s success on Saturday, it was senior center Patric Young. Young was instrumental on the boards hauling in five rebounds as the Gators barely out-rebounded the Rebels 34-32 and he talked about the physicality of the game.
“They really wanted the boards and we did as well, when they punched, we punched back and we kept fighting, and that was what determined this game, those tough hustle plays in the end.”
Young totaled 12 points and finished the game shooting 4-4 from the free throw line, which helped the Gators clinch the victory in the closing minutes.
Overall the Gators held the Rebels to a low 32 percent shooting in the second half, and Henderson, who scored 22 in the first half, shot 0-6 from the field and put up a goose egg in the second. Despite finishing with the two leading scorers in the game, the Rebels were unable to overcome their second half slump.
The Gators were able to hit on nearly every possession in the final minutes while the Rebels couldn’t hit a thing, and that was all the difference. With the victory the Gators improved their record to 7-2 in games decided by six points or less. Last year the team was 0-6 in these single digit games.
The Gators will now undoubtedly move into the number 1 ranking with Syracuse having lost two consecutive games but Donovan knows there is a tough stretch ahead for his team.
“Having to play Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday, you go a long period of time without a break and they are one game after the other and against teams our guys haven’t faced before. There’s going to be a lot to get our guys familiar with.”
One thing’s for sure, with the new title of being number one means every team will want the title of taking you down.
For post game comments from head coach Billy Donovan and senior center Patric Young click on the links below: