Total team effort
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
OXFORD, Miss. - Did you hear the one about the two freshmen starting? Or the walk-ons playing in the first half?
This wasn't against Florida A&M or Morgan State or even RPI-challenged Savannah State. This was at Ole Miss, during a critical stretch that saved No. 8 Florida from its third straight conference loss on the road.
The injury-ravaged Gators even needed contributions from walk-ons Garrett Tyler and Brett Swanson in their 69-58 win against the Rebels at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"We were all aware of the situation," Tyler said. "During the shoot-around Coach specifically told Brett to be ready. We talk about this being a great team. It was a total team effort today."
"They responded great," said point guard Taurean Green, who led Florida with 17 points and 4 assists. "We knew they were going to have to come in and help us. That's why they practice with us every day. We have confidence in them."
Florida (19-2, 5-2 SEC) was in the tough predicament because starting guard Lee Humphrey was out with a separated shoulder and starting forward Corey Brewer played his second straight game off the bench while recovering from a right ankle sprain.
But with ex-Gator Mike Miller in the stands, Florida put together a game effort. Freshman David Huertas made his first career start in place of the ailing Brewer and finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds.
"It was a courageous win for our basketball team," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Al Horford added 14 on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor. Freshman Walter Hodge, starting in place of Humphrey, finished with 10 points and two steals.
Up 37-29 at halftime, Florida led by as many as 14 points in the second half before sweating it out in the end. Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders cut Florida's lead to 61-56 when he scored on a breakaway layup after Green dribbled the ball off his foot.
But Florda responded with a sound play on a press break that resulted in a breakaway layup for Hodge to move the lead back to 63-56. Each time Ole Miss made a run, Florida had an answer.
Sanders led the Rebels with 16 points off the bench. Ole Miss (13-7, 3-4) dropped its fourth straight after a 3-0 conference start. The Rebels had 19 turnovers. Many were unforced.
"I'm disappointed we didn't play better," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "Florida had something to do with it. But we turned it over way too many times."
The walk-ons took center stage in the first half, when Horford and center Joakim Noah got in early foul trouble. Noah picked up his second foul at the 9:45 mark, and Horford was forced to sit the final 6:47 after picking up his second foul against Ole Miss reserve forward Trey Hampton.
That forced Donovan to turn to Chris Richard and Adrian Moss off the bench, and walk-ons Tyler and Swanson to give Brewer and Green a spell. In one possession, the Gators went with a lineup of Huertas, Hodge and Swanson at the guards, Moss and Richard inside. The possession ended with a turnover, as Moss was called for a three-second violation in the lane.
Still, the walk-ons persevered, with Tyler converting two free throws after he was fouled on a layup attempt off a pretty feed from Green.
"You just kind of get out there and don't even think about it," Tyler said. "You're just playing basketball. We've all played basketball at some level at every point in our lives. You're just out there trying to execute."
"I was concerned," Donovan said. "I just wanted to get through that stretch even and not to have to bring our big guys back in and get more foul trouble. I thought that Garrett and Brett came in and actually did a pretty good job for us."
Ole Miss took advantage of the smaller lineups, scoring 11 second-chance points in the first half while outrebounding Florida 17-10.
Still, Florida maintained a slim lead before ending the half with 3-pointers on its last three possessions. Moss started the flurry with a 3 from the left, extending Florida's lead to 30-24 with 1:40 remaining. After a Sanders layin for Ole Miss, Hodge responded with an open 3 from the left corner with 1:05 left to put Florida up 33-26. Florida extended its lead to 36-26 with a Green 3-pointer with 19.8 seconds left, but Sanders hit a fall-away 3 before the buzzer to pull Ole Miss within 36-29 at halftime.
Florida may need to rely on its walk-ons again for its Saturday showdown at home with Kentucky. Brewer's ankle problems have morphed into tendinitis, and limited him to zero points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 16 minutes off the bench. Humphrey dressed and traveled with the team, but didn't respond well after an injection in his left shoulder wore off Tuesday.
"I would say it's gone the other way with him," Donovan said. "I'm not anticipating him back Saturday and I'm not anticipating Corey back at 100 percent right away. We're probably going to have to keep going through this for at least the next couple of games."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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