Gators Continue SEC Run and Earn Respect from Ole Miss' Henderson
One by one, the Florida players shook hands with Mississippi mad bomber Marshall Henderson, each of them leaving the O’Connell Center floor with a little more respect, a little more affinity for college basketball’s trending lightning rod.
“I like the guy,” UF junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said after chasing the tireless Henderson the better part of the night. “I told him I did my best to guard him and he still got 25.”
And the Gators still won by 14, seizing a double-digit lead just over nine minutes into the game and never giving it back.
Senior forward Erik Murphy scored 19 points, hitting seven of his eight shots, while junior center Patric Young carded his fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and senior guard Kenny Boynton dished a career-high 10 assists in fourth-ranked Florida’s 78-64 victory over No. 16 Ole Miss in front of a sellout crowd of 12,522.
With their 10th straight win, the Gators (18-2, 8-0) moved two games in front of Rebels (17-4, 6-2), now tied with Kentucky and Alabama for second place, in the Southeastern Conference standings.
Murphy went 5-for-6 from 3-point range to improve his SEC-best 3-point marksmanship to 51.2 percent. But it was Henderson, the Texas junior college transfer, who was the topical post-game subject -- as he was the pre-game focus -- after nailing eight of his 15 field-goal attempts, including 7-for-11 from the arc against the league’s No. 1 scoring defense that came in allowing team’s just 29.7 percent from distance.
“You can call me a Marshall Henderson believer,” Young said.
And you can call Henderson a Florida believer.
“I think they’ll contend for the national championship,” said Henderson, the junior shooting guard playing for his fourth school in four years. “They execute perfectly.”
For a UF team averaging a 28-point victory margin its previous seven SEC games, this one was far from perfect. The Gators, though, needed this. They needed to get squeezed a little bit because regardless of the current state of the conference, the games are going to get much, much closer as this team goes deeper into the season.
After winning by 39 and 35 the previous two games, this one probably felt like a nail-biter.
“A win is a win,” said Boynton, who had seven assists and no turnovers through the first half, as the Gators built a 40-27 cushion. “We didn’t even expect to win by 14. We came into this game figuring it would be a grind-out game; maybe a one- or two-point game.”
It was just that a little more than four minutes in after Rebels guard Jarvis Summers scored a basket that had Ole Miss down just 11-10. That’s when UF went on a seven-point run, anchored by a Murphy trey, moving the Gators in front 18-10.
The score was 20-14 when Florida reeled off an impressive 90-second spurt. Again, it was Murphy with a three, followed by a dunk from Young, a dipsy-doodle take from Mike Rosario (14 points, 3 assists) and 3-pointer from freshman Michael Frazier that got Rebels coach Andy Kennedy off the bench for a timeout, down 30-14.
“I just wanted the guys to battle,” he said.
They battled, all right.
Down 20 later, the Rebels scored 10 straight, including back-to-back 3s from Henderson. The second was a ball-fake, up-and-under, ridiculous step-threw bucket that cut UF’s lead to 10 with 1:30 to go in the half.
“He took some crazy shots ... and made some crazy shots,” Rosario said.
“That kid is unbelievable, running off screens and shooting through cracks,” Murphy said. “He [must] work on his step-through 3. We watched him try it on film. He’s done like 3 times, but made this one. His craftiness, running around, never getting tired ... . He’s something.”
But he couldn’t do it by himself.
Florida knew Henderson was coming to town with an itchy trigger-finger, but the Gators were every bit as concerned with taking care of boxing out the bulky frontcourt duo of Murphy Holloway, the SEC’s top rebounder at 10.3 per game, and Reginald Bucker, its No. 6 rebounder at eight per game. Ole Miss started the night as the league’s premier offensive rebounding team, having grabbed 26 in Tuesday night’s loss against Kentucky.
For the Rebels, some of Henderson’s wayward long-distance jacks basically turn into passes this season.
“We knew this guy was going to have to make really hard shots,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “But we were not giving up block-out responsibility.”
They didn't. Gators out-rebounded the Rebels 34-33 for the game, and held them to 12 offensive rebounds, two fewer than the Ole Miss average. Holloway had just seven rebounds and combined with Bucker to clear just 15.
“We had to battle every possession,” Murphy said.
The Gators scored 10 straight in the second half to build a 23-point lead, but went cold for a stretch when Ole Miss went to a zone and forced UF to take eight straight 3-point shots. UF made just one of those, but never trailed by less than 13 the rest of the way.
Only once this SEC season had any team dared stay that close to the Gators. And this was with Boynton and Wilbekin, two of the team’s best shooters, combining to make just nine of 28 shots; only two of 14 from 3-point range.
“If they made a few more, we may have hit 90,” Donovan said.
Instead, it was a 14-point game.
Or as Rosario called it, “a dogfight.”
For the Gators on this dominant run, it certainly qualified.
“We had to work harder for this one,” Wilbekin said. “It feels like that one was more of a challenge. They’re a good team. They gave us a pretty good challenge.”
The best one yet.
Scott Carter is the Columnist for UAA and GatorZone.com. Click here to read more of his work.
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