No. 14 Gators rally for win at Ole Miss


Florida guard Erving Walker shoots against Mississippi guard Jarvis Summers in the first half of a game in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.

OXFORD, Miss. — Florida needed a little bit of everything to pull off its biggest comeback of the season.

A selfless effort from senior point guard Erving Walker.

A more physical effort in the second half from ailing sophomore center Patric Young.

Some big shots from junior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. And a big defensive play from sophomore forward Will Yeguete.

All played a role in No. 14 UF's 64-60 win over Ole Miss before 7,488 at Tad Smith Coliseum. Florida (16-4, 4-1 SEC) rallied back from down 16 points in the first half to win its fourth straight game and improve to 2-4 on the road.

“Just how we drew it up,” Walker said with a smile.

Florida trailed 20-4 with 12:14 left in the first half and appeared on its way to its fifth road loss in six games. But the Gators overcame a flurry of 3-pointers to cut the Ole Miss lead to 38-28 at halftime. Ole Miss, which came into the game as the worst 3-point shooting team in the SEC (27.2 percent) made all six of its 3-point attempts in the first half.

“We knew they weren't going to keep shooting 3s like that the whole game,” Walker said, “They were throwing in everything. So we just wanted to stay close and when they started missing, just take over the game.”

Walker finished with 10 points and 9 assists. Young led the Gators with 15 points and Boynton added 12.

“Our guys stayed the course,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I never thought they got rattled or overwhelmed.”

The comeback began with defense. Florida held OIe Miss to just two points in the first five minutes of the second half. Even though the Gators only had cut the lead to 40-34 at that point, the momentum starting turning.

“I thought if we could just win the first four minutes of the second half, even if it was just by a point, we could get a little bit of momentum,” Donovan said.

After Ole Miss went up 44-36 on a Terrance Henry jumper, the Gators closed the gap with a quick 7-0 run. Erik Murphy hit a 3-pointer to cut the Ole Miss lead to 44-39, and Young then had a dunk in transition off a Murphy steal. Young followed with a steal and inside layup to cut the Ole Miss lead to 44-43 with 11:52 left.

“We stayed together as a team,” Young said. “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to be able to fight back in the game.”

Young, who has been dealing with lingering ankle tendinitis, said he was challenged this week by Donovan in practice. He also read an article from ESPN college basketball analyst and former Duke standout Jay Bilas on toughness.

“It really just put me in the mindset that I have to go hard and be rock-solid for my teammates the whole game,” Young said. “Communicate and just be tough, be tough for my team.”

Young said Donovan called him into his office earlier this week and described it as a week of self-reflection.

“Patric is a guy that sometimes gets down on himself too much,” Donovan said. “And he doesn't handle adversity sometimes as well as he needs to. I was really, really proud of him the last two days, me really challenging him and how he got himself prepared to play.”

While Young scored 11 of his 15 points on dunks and inside baskets, Florida needed some big 3-pointers late to clinch the win. Mike Rosario's 3-pointer with 5:35 left gave Florida a 53-52 lead. Then, off a Henry turnover, Boynton nailed a 3-pointer to extend UF's lead to 56-52 with 4:21 left.

After a Henry inside layup cut Florida's lead to 56-54, Boynton drained another 3-pointer with 4:06 left to put the Gators up 59-54.

“Luckily in the crunch time when we needed it, I hit,” Boynton said. “Erv hit. Patric was finishing down low, and everyone in crunch time came through.”

Florida appeared on the way to a comfortable win when Walker made a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left to put Florida ahead 63-56. But nothing is easy on the road in the SEC. Henry, who led Ole Miss with 21 points, hit a 3-pointer to cut Florida's lead to 63-59. Then, Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Young fouled Ole Miss freshman guard Maurice Aniefiok, who made one of two free throws to cut Florida's lead to 63-60 with 24 seconds left.

Walker brought the ball upcourt and slipped on the floor with 18 seconds left for his lone turnover of the game. Ole Miss retained possession with a chance to tie.

But with 10 seconds left, Yeguete stripped Aniefiok. Freshman Bradley Beal got the steal and made one of two free throws to close out the game.

“We found a way to win in the end,” Donovan said.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Can Florida continue to bring the same intensity on the road that it does at home?

The Gators withstood an early barrage of Ole Miss 3-point shots and stayed together. Florida was much better defensively in the second half, holding Ole Miss to 27.6 percent shooting from the floor. Some of that had to do with better intensity on the defensive end of the floor.

2. Can Florida's bench continue to provide scoring production?

Patric Young came off the bench for the third straight game and provided a lift with 15 points in 26 minutes. Mike Rosario added 8 points, 2 assists and a steal in 16 minutes, going 2 of 5 from 3-point range. Scottie Wilbekin also hit a 3-pointer, helping Florida get 26 points from its bench.

3. Will Florida turn to the press again in an effort to force turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities?

Florida sprinkled in the press at points in the first and the second half, and it helped to get the game going up and down the floor. Florida forced 14 turnovers, while finishing with assist-to-turnover ratio of 21 to 6. The Gators scored 18 points off turnovers.

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