Rebels make Gators work for win


Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Ole Miss came out of halftime simply trying to avoid an embarrassment. In their quest to make Saturday afternoon's game at No. 1 Florida respectable, however, the Rebels suddenly found themselves right back in the game.

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DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun

Ole Miss cut a 25-point second-half deficit to seven before finally falling 79-70 to the Gators in the O'Connell Center. It was an impressive run from a team that appeared lifeless when it entered halftime down 45-26.

"The word in our locker room (at halftime) was that we didn't want to give up," said guard Clarence Sanders, who finished with 17 points. "We weren't going to go out like that. We were going to come out, man-up and go out fighting."

Ole Miss did just that. After falling behind 53-28 early in the second half, the Rebels used a full-court press and some clutch shooting to get back in the game. The Rebels cut Florida's lead to 73-66 when Dwayne Curtis hit a turnaround hook shot with 2:38 remaining.

The Rebels then had a chance to cut the lead to four with 2:27 left, but Eniel Polynice's 3-pointer out of the corner rimmed in and out.

"We thought it was going to go in," Sanders said. "But that's the game of basketball. You're going to hit some and you're going to miss some."

Coach Adam Kennedy knew it was a shot the Rebels had to make to complete the comeback. Instead, Florida took the rebound and put Ole Miss away.

"I thought that (shot) would have hopefully created a little more tentativeness in them," Kennedy said.

The Rebels comeback was unexpected, especially given it occurred after forward Kenny Williams and Jermy Parnell had fouled out.

Kennedy used his smaller, quicker lineup to full-court press Florida. It was an effective strategy.

The Rebels forced 12 second-half Florida turnovers, allowing Ole Miss to convert some easy baskets.

"We made them turn it over, what, 12 times?" Sanders said. "It turned the game around a whole lot."

Gators coach Billy Donovan acknowledged the aggressive second-half play of the Rebels, but also expressed disappointment in his team for giving up such a big lead.

"I thought some of our guys off the bench had some key turnovers that ignited Ole Miss' run," Donovan said. "We came out (after halftime) and went up 25 points. I think right when we subbed, the whole game plan changed."

Ole Miss was facing a No. 1-ranked team for the first time since the 1993-94 season when it twice encountered top-ranked Arkansas.

Ole Miss hasn't beaten a top-five team since beating Florida 74-69 at the 2001 SEC Tournament. The Rebels almost did it again Saturday.

"If we would have had five more minutes we would have a made a big run at it," Sanders said. "I'm not saying we would have won, but it would have been a possibility."

Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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