In a game that had just about everything, including a pair of gambling coaching decisions on the final play of regulation, Florida’s basketball team rediscovered its clutch gene thanks to the confidence of a senior and the icy coolness of a freshman.
As a result, the Gators got a much-needed 90-86 overtime win over Ole Miss at Exactech Arena Wednesday night.
“They earned it,” said Florida coach Mike White. “Our guys earned that ‘W’. Hopefully we are in a better place.
“I see a lot of smiles in that locker room.”
Certainly, one of them belonged to senior KeVaughn Allen, whose 3-point make with 2.7 seconds to play sent the game into the extra session.
Allen made the shot despite missing his previous six from long range.
“I realized it,” Allen said of going 0-for-6. “But every three I shot felt good. They were just rimming out.”
Here’s where we get into the gambling.
As a crowd of 9,308 watched, Florida got the kind of bad break it has been getting a lot this season when freshman Keyontae Johnson was tied up with 11.5 seconds to play and Ole Miss got the ball because of the possession arrow.
After Johnson fouled Breein Tyree with 8.8 seconds to go on the inbounds play, Tyree hit a pair of free throws to make it 76-73 Mississippi.
During the ensuing timeout, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis decided not to foul Florida and send the Gators to the free throw line. His team had made 22-of-26 free throws in the game and even two Florida made free throws would have forced UF to foul.
“Normally, 90 percent of the time we foul in that situation, which was almost nine seconds,” Davis said. “We like to keep it six seconds or under. Still bad. We switched it off like we were supposed to and he made a dead-run three.”
Allen came off a screen and hit the shot and Florida defended the inbounds play with an Allen steal to send the game to OT.
“Coach wanted to get a quick two but he changed his mind and decided to go for the three,” Allen said.
And who better to take it than a guy who hadn’t made one all night, yet still shot with the confidence of a sniper.
“He hasn’t always been that confident,” White said. “He wants it more offensively.”
In overtime, freshmen Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard hit big 3s and Allen hit a pair of close-range shots to finish with 21 points. Allen also made one of the biggest plays of the game when he flung his body to the ground to tip a ball headed for the sideline to teammate Kevarrius Hayes with 37 seconds left.
Two Nembhard free throws gave Florida a five-point lead 11 seconds later, but an Allen turnover with 17 seconds allowed Ole Miss to cut the lead to two.
The Gators (12-8, 4-3 in SEC) held on because Locke knocked down a pair of free throws with 11.2 seconds left to clinch it.
“A little bit (nervous),” Locke said. “It was going through my head that I shoot so many free throws and it’s a free shot.”
Locke, who played 42 minutes in the game, finished with a team-high 22 points, as Florida’s three freshmen all contributed mightily.
Johnson finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Nembhard had 12 points, six assists and four steals.
“Individually, that might have been Keyontae’s best game,” White said. “Collectively, it was the best game our freshmen have played.”
Ole Miss (14-6, 4-3) was led by Terence Davis, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds. Tyree had 20 points and KJ Buffen 17.
Florida won despite Ole Miss shooting 56 percent and outrebounding the Gators 41-27. But UF won with offense (gulp) four days after scoring only 50 points in a loss to TCU.
“I thought we took a big step offensively,” White said.
Next up for the Gators is a red-hot Kentucky team that has won seven straight games. The Wildcats are 17-3 overall, 6-1 in the SEC and are ranked seventh in both the AP poll and the NET rankings. The game is at 4 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
Olejniczak 3-7 0-0 6, Shuler 4-8 1-1 9, T.Davis 8-17 8-10 26, Tyree 6-15 5-6 20, Hinson 1-3 0-0 2, Stevens 3-6 0-1 6, Buffen 4-7 8-8 17, D.Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-63 22-26 86.
K.Johnson 7-11 0-3 15, Hayes 3-5 3-3 9, Locke 7-13 2-2 22, Nembhard 4-5 2-2 12, Allen 6-19 8-8 21, Bassett 1-2 1-1 3, Stokes 1-2 0-0 2, Ballard 0-2 0-0 0, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Hudson 2-4 1-3 6. Totals 31-63 17-22 90.
Halftime_Florida 33-30. End Of Regulation_Tied 76. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 6-23 (Tyree 3-9, T.Davis 2-7, Buffen 1-2, Shuler 0-1, Stevens 0-2, Hinson 0-2), Florida 11-26 (Locke 6-11, Nembhard 2-3, Hudson 1-1, K.Johnson 1-2, Allen 1-7, Ballard 0-2). Fouled Out_K.Johnson, Hinson. Rebounds_Mississippi 37 (T.Davis 12), Florida 27 (Hayes 8). Assists_Mississippi 10 (T.Davis 5), Florida 18 (Nembhard 6). Total Fouls_Mississippi 23, Florida 20.