Forget for a moment that the best player on Mississippi’s team (Breein Tyree) couldn’t play because of a back injury and another starter (Khadim Sy) didn’t make the trip because Rebels coach Kermit Davis decided to leave him home.
Forget that this was coach Mike White’s 100th win at Florida (against his alma mater no less) and forget that undefeated Auburn is coming to town Saturday.
All that really mattered Tuesday night in the O-Dome was that Florida got its defensive mojo back after an awful performance in Columbia, Mo., three nights ago.
“It makes me feel better about our team,” said White. “If our last defensive effort became the norm, we might not win any more games.”
Instead, Florida ramped up the defense, deflecting 28 balls and forcing 18 turnovers in an easy 71-55 win over Mississippi.
There was a bad defensive stretch that allowed Ole Miss to take the lead midway through the first half, but the rest of the game was all Florida.
“Deflections were big for us,” said Kerry Blackshear Jr. “Our defense gave us a lot of energy on the offensive end.”
Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 15 points, as Florida had balance throughout the lineup. Ole Miss got 20 points from KJ Buffen and 18 from Blake Hinson but only 19 points from the rest of the team.
“For the most part,” Davis said, “we competed.”
Tyree was fifth in the SEC in scoring coming into the game. But he was a late scratch after getting injured in a fall in Monday’s practice.
“We didn’t even bring it up,” White said. “They aren’t the same team without Tyree, but we had to play correctly on the defensive end regardless.”
Florida jumped out to a 17-6 lead, but Ole Miss (9-7, 0-3 in the SEC) responded with a 16-2 run to take the lead. The Gators (11-5, 3-1) went on a run hitting nine straight shots to lead by 12 at the half.
The game was basically in UF’s hands then, up 40-28, and the Gators didn’t back off, extending the lead to as many as 23 points.
They limited Ole Miss to 29-percent shooting in the second half.
“Our focus coming into the game was defense,” said sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard, who had 10 points and six assists. “We needed to recuperate (from the Missouri game).”
Blackshear added 13 points for Florida to go with nine rebounds.
But the story of this game was a defense still reeling from allowing 91 points Saturday. Missouri couldn’t miss that night, but Florida only allowed Ole Miss to make three shots from behind the arc, only one in the second half.
Florida also scored 26 points off turnovers and dominated in the paint 44 to 18.
“We had to show our toughness,” said Johnson. “We didn’t want to play like we did at Missouri.”
It was fitting for a coach who preaches defense daily to win his 100th game at Florida (second fastest behind Billy Donovan) with a stellar defensive effort.
“I think we got more into character, into who we are,” said Blackshear.
The Gators will need that kind of effort and more Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when they play an Auburn team that goes into Wednesday night’s game at Alabama.
But for a night, White could order a pizza on his drive home and enjoy No. 100.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I’ve had really good players. I never would have imagined. Blessed to be at a terrific program. Hopefully we can win some more.”
Notes: White attained the milestone in 158 games, just four games behind Donovan’s pace (154). No Florida coach has reached the mark sooner than 170 games.
*Noah Locke made multiple 3-pointers for the 13th straight game, the longest such streak by a Gator during the White/Donovan era (since 1996).
Florida 71, Ole Miss 55
Hinson 6-14 2-3 16, Shuler 2-7 1-2 5, Buffen 5-8 10-11 20, Crowley 1-6 2-2 5, Hunter 1-4 1-2 3, Curry 2-3 0-0 4, Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Miller 0-2 0-0 0, Collum 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 16-20 55.
Blackshear 5-12 3-4 13, Locke 3-6 1-2 9, Nembhard 5-7 0-1 10, Johnson 6-7 3-3 15, Payne 4-4 0-2 8, Lewis 0-2 3-4 3, Glover 3-7 1-2 8, Mann 1-5 2-3 4, Bassett 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 27-50 14-23 71.
Halftime_Florida 40-28. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 3-16 (Hinson 2-7, Crowley 1-2, Buffen 0-1, Miller 0-1, Hunter 0-2, Shuler 0-3), Florida 3-13 (Locke 2-5, Glover 1-2, Johnson 0-1, Lewis 0-1, Nembhard 0-1, Blackshear 0-3). Fouled Out_Williams. Rebounds_Mississippi 23 (Hinson 10), Florida 26 (Blackshear 9). Assists_Mississippi 4 (Shuler, Crowley, Curry, Williams 1), Florida 13 (Nembhard 7). Total Fouls_Mississippi 20, Florida 18.