Rebels rally past Gators for SEC Tournament title
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida had a chance to rewrite its poor close-game legacy in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals.
But missed shots and missed free throws late added up to more heartbreak Sunday for the top-seeded Gators.
The No. 13 Gators missed their final six free-throw attempts and seven of their last 10 shot attempts in a 66-63 loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament title game.
The loss dropped Florida (26-7) to 0-6 in games decided by six points or less this season, and 0-4 in games decided by five points or fewer. Florida failed to hold a 12-point halftime lead and has now blown double-digit leads in three of its seven losses this season (Missouri, Arizona, Mississippi).
“The problem has to be fixed, because it’s one-and-done now,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said.
When asked how it could be fixed, Boynton said: “Just come out with more energy to start the second half.”
Down 65-63, Florida had a chance to tie, but forward Erik Murphy front-rimmed a hook shot attempt with 9.3 seconds left. Then, after Murphy Holloway made one of two free throws, Ole Miss purposely fouled Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Wilbekin missed his first free-throw attempt, then missed his second on purpose. Patric Young tipped the ball back to Boynton, who took a quick dribble and step back for an off-balanced 3-point attempt to tie at the buzzer. It rimmed out.
Murphy said the hook in the lane was the shot he wanted and refused to blame a twisted ankle he suffered in the first half for another off-shooting day. Murphy finished 3 of 11 from the floor and 1 of 6 from the 3-point line.
“It felt good,” Murphy said. “I got the ball off the block and tried to make a move, it just didn’t go in.”
But the Gators could have survived Murphy’s off day with a better defensive effort in the second half. Ole Miss diced up Florida’s normally stout defense, shooting 53.6 percent from the field in the second half and 47.4 percent for the game. Holloway led the Rebels (26-8) with 23 points and Marshall Henderson, named SEC Tournament MVP, scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half.
“We just didn’t do a good job help defense like we know we’re supposed to,” Young said. “I made some mistakes, we all made a few mistakes. But that’s not what we’ve been about all year and that’s the reason we lost the game, mostly, was our defense.”
Down 38-26 at halftime, Ole Miss went on a 17-3 run, taking a 43-41 lead on a layup by Reginald Buckner. The Rebels maintained the momentum the rest of the second half. After draining a 3-pointer off a loose ball to put Ole Miss up 59-53 with 7:14 left, Henderson rushed to midcourt and did the Gator Chomp to the crowd.
“It just felt appropriate at the time,” Henderson said. “I dreamed about it the night before, actually.”
Henderson also was the recipient of a couple of foul calls on 3-point attempts that Florida coach Billy Donovan called “very questionable.” The junior guard cashed in at the line by making all six of his free-throw attempts.
“I asked Scottie, and he said ‘Coach, I didn’t touch him either time’,” Donovan said. “The ref obviously saw it different.”
Wilbekin also was adamant that he didn’t foul Henderson.
“The first one was a block,” Wilbekin said. “The second one I barely touched him.”
Mike Rosario led the Gators with 18 points, with Boynton adding 13 points. Boynton left the game for about four minutes due to an elbow injury after taking a hard foul in the second half.
Florida finished 37.3 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from 3-point range (11-31). Donovan said he felt the high number of 3-point attempts were justified given how Ole Miss was guarding the Gators.
“They were switching and jamming up the lane and I actually thought most of the shots that we got were really good,” Donovan said.
But even with questionable shot selection and poor defense in the second half, Florida still could have won the game with more focus at the free-throw line.
Down 61-55, Young made just one of two free throws to cut the Ole Miss lead to 61-56. Then, Young missed two straight free-throw attempts. Down 61-59, freshman Michael Frazier, an 85.2 percent free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:07 left. The Gators finished the SEC Tournament shooting 54.4 percent (31-57) from the free-throw line.
“I’ve got to keep working on it,” Young said of his free-throw shooting. “I can’t keep hurting my team like this. You’re going to be put in situations like this eventually and you’ve got to knock them down.’
FREE THROWS: Murphy and Boynton were named to the SEC all-tournament team. … The 66-63 loss to Ole Miss dropped Donovan to 3-3 in SEC title games and 58-78 in games decided by five points or less in his UF tenure.