Gators with hard fought 77-72 win over Ole Miss

Florida’s basketball team tinkered on the edge for the entire night against Ole Miss (15-9, 5-6 SEC), giving up a first half 10-point lead to a three point deficit with 15:46 left in the game, the Gators (16-8, 7-4 SEC) committed 16 turnovers to make things interesting as the game headed to the final buzzer.

Florida was able to limit the effectiveness of Ole Miss guard Stefon Moody who finished with 19 points, five under his season average. But the Rebels got terrific play from guard Rasheed Brooks and his 16 points and forward Tomasz Gielo who came off the bench to score 20 in the 77-72 win by the Gators.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Florida head coach Mike White said on the Gators’ IMG Network post-game show. “It seemed like it wasn’t going to end like a couple of these close home ones we’ve had here lately.”

Both teams fought hard and both forced 16 turnovers each. Florida shot just 47% from the field, but the Gators held Ole Miss to just 43%. The Rebels did what they could to take the game away from Florida senior Dorian Finney-Smith who has been the Gators best player this season.

“These guys just wouldn’t go away and I thought they were really scrappy and with their changing defenses… their 2/3 zone was terrific,” White said. “They did a really good job on Dorian Finney-Smith. Luckily for us he continued to find a way and found ways through transition offense to get 16 and a couple of open looks.”

The Gators had five players score in double figures in the game for only the sixth time all season. Finney-Smith had 15 points and six rebounds. Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen added 15 points. Sophomore center John Egbunu pulled down 14 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Kasey Hill finished with 10 points and six assists.

Allen scored five of the last eight points in the game they all came with less than a minute left in the game.

“KeVaughn did some really good things,” White said of his freshman guard. “He had 15 on only eight shots. That’s a really efficient night for him. I thought he made some really sound decisions. I like having him in at the end of the game with his shooting percentage and the way he’s handling the ball in the backcourt, using his strong body to get open.”

Robinson came off the bench and logged the most minutes of the season. White thought it was the best the sophomore forward has played.  

“Devin Robinson took three charges… I thought he played the game of his career as a Gator,” White said. “He was terrific, four offensive rebounds, three charges, 15 points on seven shots, Devin was the best player on the floor tonight.”

Egbunu excelled when the rest of the team figured out how to attack the 2/3 zone the Rebels used for most of the night.  

“First of all he didn’t get into foul trouble, so he logged his career high in minutes at 36,” White said of his big sophomore center. “In their 2/3 zone they do a good job of matching to Dorian. They knew what we were trying to do in zone and that’s get it to the center of the zone with Dorian. Sometimes we’ll call a pull, so Dorian will pull to one of the corners or the top of the key. They did a good job of matching there. Often their zone is extended and when it’s extended and you are matching to our four perimeter guys, it leaves John one-on-one in the post. A little bit more room than the conventional zone and I thought our perimeter guys did a pretty good job of getting him some deep touches against the 2/3.”

Finney-Smith continued with his terrific play. Along with his 20 points and six rebounds he had just one turnover in his 37 minutes on the floor. Seeing four others step up in the scoring department has to make it easier for the big man.

“Dorian Finney-Smith, we ride him and he’s physically and mentally tired, it’s probably been a long couple of months for him,” White said. “I am sure he’s looking forward to that day off tomorrow. For him to not have to burden that load quite as much, and for the other guys to step up and hit shots for us is big. It takes pressure off of Dorian.”

What can’t be overlooked is the defensive play of Hill and fellow guard Chris Chiozza. Hill did most of the dirty work on Moody forcing the seventh highest scorer in the country into three fouls in the first half and eventually fouling out of the contest with just about a minute left in the game. Moody logged a low 29 minutes in the game.  

“Six assists and one turnover, I thought he played a really good floor game,” White said of Hill.

In the end, the Gators got out of the O’Connell Center with a game that could have gone either way. Unlike at Kentucky on Saturday where the Gators lost in a blowout, White was happy with his team’s effort.

“I thought Ole Miss was terrific,” White said. “Thomas Gielo was unbelievable off the bench getting 20 and eight. He hit some really big shots that ended a couple of our runs. Moody is the best scorer in our league and Rasheed Brooks was terrific tonight as he was in Oxford.

“We’ve got a lot of games left and a lot of room for improvement. I was really happy with our effort. We played way harder than we did on Saturday. That’s the first order of business. Let’s fight, fly around, play for each other, play with energy, effort, and communicate.  We did those things.

“We did enough down the stretch, and any win in the SEC is a big one. We’ll take it.”


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