Gators lose heartbreaker at Ole Miss

Florida stayed in Saturday’s game because of hot shooting from Michael Frazier but struggled to get stops late and allowed Ole Miss to steal a 72-71 win in Oxford.

“Coming out of Georgia and LSU games, I was disappointed with our team because we didn’t battle and compete like we needed to,” Billy Donovan said on the postgame radio show. “This was a game where we did (compete).”

The Gators held a three-point lead with two minutes remaining, but Ole Miss’ M.J. Rhett hit a jumper to cut the lead to one. Two possessions later still holding a one-point lead, Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 15 points, served as the point guard but dribbled around the perimeter for the length of the shot clock before missing a three-point shot.

Ole Miss answered with a jumper from Jarvis Summers to take a 70-69 lead with 31 seconds left. When the Gators needed a basket to take the lead, Frazier put the ball on the floor and attacked the rim, earning a foul in the process. He hit both free throws to give the Gators the lead back.

However, a Finney-Smith foul with four seconds left allowed Ole Miss to hit both free throws for a 72-71 lead they would hold onto. Florida point guard Kasey Hill tried to drive the length of the floor in less than four seconds, but his layup left his hand well after the buzzer sounded.

“We were able to quickly inbound to Kasey,” Donovan said after Florida’s third . “In that situation, Kasey’s got to get the ball up on the glass. He needs to at least pull up and take a shot, at least give us a shot there. The clock went out without getting a shot off, that was disappointing.”

Without Frazier’s hot shooting, the Gators never would have been in the game. He scored a season-high 27 points, with 16 of them coming in the second half. The junior guard went 7-11 from the field and 6-8 from behind the 3-point line, going 7-7 from the free throw line.

Frazier added five rebounds and three assists, but his shooting was Florida’s best hope for offense.

“We really got only two performances offensively out of Dorian and Michael Frazier,” Donovan said. “We kept battling and playing all the way through, but we didn’t get a whole lot from too many others.”

Coming into Saturday’s game, free throws were the biggest difference on paper, and that held true through the game. Florida went 15-24 (62.5%) from the free throw line while Ole Miss, who came into the game as the top free-throw shooting team in the nation, went 16-19 (84.2%). All Florida players except for Frazier went 8-17 (47.1%) from the free throw line.

The Gators again struggled with free throws late in the game, making just three of their final five free throws. Finney-Smith missed both of his with 2:17 left in the game and Florida leading by three at the time.

“That was a huge key,” Donovan said.

Florida returns to action on Tuesday at Alabama at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

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