Short-Handed Gators Earn Key Road Victory

OXFORD, Mississippi ---- You step between the lines and you play with what you've got. No excuses. That's always been Billy Donovan's motto so when the Florida Gators took to the court short-handed to face Ole Miss on the road, it was a no excuses game. None were needed. Lee Humphrey's out and Corey Brewer still can't go? No problem. Two freshmen starting in place of Humphrey and Brewer? Again, no problem.

Billy Donovan played what he had and that's all he needed Tuesday night as the seventh-ranked Gators (19-2, 5-2 SEC) played through adversity to score a 69-58 win over the Rebels (13-7, 3-4). Humphrey and Brewer average 24 points a game between them but the slack was picked up by freshmen replacements Walter Hodge (10 points) and David Huertas, who scored nine in his first start ever as a Gator.

Florida also got key minutes off the bench in the first half from two walk-ons, junior guard Brett Swanson and sophomore forward Garrett Tyler. Tyler contributed a pair of free throws to expand Florida's lead to three, 23-20, at the 5:39 mark in the first half when the Gators were playing without their two starting big guys (Al Horford and Joakim Noah) who were on the bench with foul troubles.

Florida also got contributions off the bench from backup big guys Adrian Moss (five points) and Chris Richard (four points) who hit four of their six shots. Moss drained a three from the corner with 1:42 remaining in the half to stretch Florida's lead to six, 30-24.

Brewer, who injured his ankle against Tennessee 10 days ago, was good only for limited minutes coming off the bench and those minutes were even cut back when he re-injured his ankle in the first half. Brewer didn't score a single point but he contributed two key plays down the stretch that helped preserve the win for Florida.

Ole Miss had a chance to cut the lead to five with 3:40 remaining in the game but the Gators played wild, scrambling defense. A partially blocked shot found its way near midcourt where it was about to go out of bounds but Brewer streaked down the sideline, got a hand up and pushed the ball in the direction of Taurean Green. Green dished off to Hodge who scored on a goal tend call against Ole Miss with 3:30 left. Brewer's heads up play was a four-point turnaround that allowed Florida to go ahead by nine, 61-52.

Ole Miss had a chance to cut the margin to five with 1:50 remaining on a steal near midcourt but instead of a dunk that would have sent the Tad Smith Coliseum crowd into a frenzy, Brewer intercepted the alley oop pass from Todd Abernethy at its apex.

The Rebels got back within five at 1:33 on a Clarence Sanders layup but on the inbounds play, Green split the press and got the ball ahead to Hodge who drove it straight down the middle for a layup to increase Florida's lead to 63-56.

From there it was six straight free throws by the Gators to seal the deal, earning Florida one of the most important road victories in recent history. Florida's free throw shooting was a critical element in the game. The Gators went 17-18 from the line with Green leading the way with a 9-10 effort. Ole Miss managed just 8-15 from the foul line.

In the absence of Humphrey, one of the nation's top long range shooters, Florida turned in a respectable 6-15 effort from the three-point line. Green didn't have a great night from the arc (2-8) but Hodge (2-3), Huertas (1-2) and Moss (1-1) compensated.

That was the kind of night it was for Florida --- a lot of different guys doing whatever they had to do to make it all work. The Gators truly had to find a way to win and they did it with tough, gutsy play on the defensive end and a patient offensive attack. Because they were short-handed, the Gators couldn't press and didn't push the ball up the court. Instead, they played half court basketball with the efficiency of a veteran team.

Huertas showed a willingness to take the ball to the hoop and Hodge continued on his strong run of three-point shooting. Starting with the Savannah State game, Hodge has hit 11 of his last 16 three-pointers.

On the defensive end, the young guys played aggressively and rarely got caught out of position. Hodge got a couple of key steals while Huertas grabbed four rebounds.

Even though Green didn't have one of his better shooting nights from the floor, he got to the foul line where he was deadly. He missed his second free throw then drained the next eight. For the season, Green is 104-118, a red hot 88.1 percent. In SEC games, Green is 47-51, 92.1 percent.

Horford followed up his 16-point, 16-rebound performance against Vanderbilt last Saturday with 14 points on 7-9 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot in very limited action. Horford only played nine minutes in the first half. Noah had eight points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal in only 20 minutes of action for the entire game.

For the game, the Gators shot 53.5 percent on 23-43 shooting while limiting Ole Miss to 46 percent overall (24-52) and a miserable 2-13 from the three-point line. It is the second straight game the Gators have come up big in defending the perimeter. In the second half Saturday against Vanderbilt, Florida held the Commodores to 0-10 shooting from the three-point line and 2-17 for the entire game.

Florida had some problems with turnovers in the second half, finishing with 16 for the game, but the Gators forced 18 turnovers by the Rebels, who just never got into a good offensive flow.

It was Florida's defense that keyed the Gators' seven point (36-29) lead in the first half. Noah went to the bench with his second foul with 9:41 remaining in the half and Horford followed at the 6:47 mark. Florida played the final minutes of the half with a makeshift lineup that included Tyler and Swanson in the rotation along with Richard and Moss in the post.

The Gators hit their final three three-point attempts of the half to go into the half with momentum. Moss hit from the corner (1:42 left) and then Hodge from the wing (1:04) and Green from the top of the key (21.3) as Florida closed with a flurry.

Florida got off to a quick second half start to extend the lead to 44-33 on a dunk by Richard with 17:17 left. A pair of free throws by Huertas gave the Gators their largest lead of the night at 53-38 with 11:23 to go in the game.

The Gators next game is at the O'Connell Center Saturday evening against Kentucky in a nationally televised game (ESPN2). ESPN's College Game Day Crew will be on campus in Gainesville Saturday.

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