Balanced Gators repel Rebels for 10th straight win
Published: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 12:44 a.m.
Florida knew it was in for what senior guard Mike Rosario called “a dogfight” Saturday night against Ole Miss.
But even with Rebels junior guard Marshall Henderson hitting his share of off-balanced, double-pump shots, the Gators had more than enough scoring balance and muscle underneath the basket to pull through. It wasn't a dominant defensive performance, but No. 4 Florida answered all runs to beat No. 16 Ole Miss 78-64 in its ranked showdown at the O'Connell Center.
Florida's balance was led by senior forward Erik Murphy and stretched throughout the entire starting lineup. Murphy had 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, and was joined by Mike Rosario (14 points), Scottie Wilbekin (13 points, seven assists) and Patric Young (13 points, 12 rebounds). Kenny Boynton had nine points and a career-high 10 assists.
“We all contributed to the table,” Rosario said.
Henderson led all scorers with 25 points, going 8-of-15 from the floor and 7-of-11 from 3-point range. Wilbekin and Boynton defended Henderson during different stretches of the game.
“Scottie did a great job,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He got nothing easy. He's shooting double-pumpers in, he can have those all he wants. … His 25 was earned.”
Wilbekin said he didn't get frustrated by some of the circus shots that Henderson made throughout the game. The 6-foot-2 junior guard forced three of Henderson's four turnovers.
“I couldn't focus on it too much because I had to move on to the next defensive play and try to get a stop the next time,” Wilbekin said.
Henderson, who entered as the SEC's leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, was complimentary toward the Gators following the game.
“I think (Florida) will contend for the national championship,” Henderson said. “We have seen how they have been blowing people out. They execute perfectly.”
The sellout crowd of 12,522 had their fun moments with Henderson, chanting “Mar-shall” during each of his four turnovers. When asked about UF's student section, Henderson said: “I had to give it to them — I thought they'd be a little bit more mean than they were. There were some funny signs.”
Florida got off to a quick start, building a 35-15 lead following a 15-1 run. Murphy, Rosario and Wilbekin all hit 3-pointers over Ole Miss' 2-3 zone.
But Henderson hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-0 Ole Miss run that cut Florida's lead to 35-25.
“We might have hit a wall with six minutes to go in the first half,” Donovan said. “I thought we got a little stagnant and made some poor decisions.”
Murphy stopped the run with a 3-pointer out of a timeout, and Wilbekin hit a baseline jumper at the first-half buzzer to put the Gators up 40-27 at halftime.
Florida started the second half with another big surge, going up 60-37 on a pair of Boynton free throws with 12:34 remaining. But again, the Gator offense stalled, scoring just three points over the next five-plus minutes. A Jarvis Summers three-point play cut Florida's lead to 63-50 with 7:12 left, but the Gators never allowed Ole Miss to cut the lead under 10 points.
The Gators responded to the physical challenge that Ole Miss presented inside. Young posted his fifth double-double of the season (he had four all last season), and Murphy held Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. The Gators outrebounded Ole Miss 34-33 and held the Rebels to 12 offensive rebounds.
Donovan said that Young's shoulder was OK. Young appeared to hurt his shoulder on a blocked shot in the closing minutes.
“I thought he dislocated it, the way he was walking around, but he's fine,” Donovan said. “I thought Patric played great. He played a great defensive game. … It's the best I've seen him chase the ball off the backboard in a long period of time.”
Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) won its 10th straight and extended its lead to two games over Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2 SEC) and the rest of the pack in the SEC. But in an expanded 18-game SEC schedule, Donovan said the early cushion doesn't mean much to him.
“We're not even at the halfway point,” Donovan said. “We have a lot of basketball left to play. The league standings mean something to me when the year is over with. We still have a lot more basketball to be played. … Our schedule is going to be more and more challenging going forward.”
The last time Florida won 10 in a row was to close out its national title season in 2006-07.
“We can be really good, we've just got to keep our focus,” Murphy said. “We've just got to keep guarding, it's the biggest thing. There's going to be nights when the ball doesn't go in — like it did tonight — and we've got to hold teams under their average.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.