Gators Improve NCAA Chances with Road Win

There was a Big Mac attack Saturday in Oxford, Miss. As a result, the Florida Gators' NCAA tournament hopes are looking a lot more satisfying.

Vernon Macklin, UF's 6-10, 240-pound junior center, poured in a career-high 22 points, including 16 in the first half, and, for the second straight game, the Gators overcame a poor shooting performance from the field with a sparkling effort from the free throw line and some timely defense to take a huge 64-61 SEC road win over Ole Miss before a Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 7,071.

Macklin surpassed his previous career-best 20-point effort set two weeks ago against Mississippi State by connecting on 8-of-11 shots from the field and going 6-for-6 from the foul line while adding seven rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes of action. The Georgetown transfer not only had his best day as a Gator, but UF (19-8, 8-4) is now 12-2 on the season when he scores in double figures.

"He really carried us. We got the ball inside to him and he delivered a lot, especially in the first half," head coach Billy Donovan said in his postgame radio interview with WRUF. "I thought he also made some very good decisions throwing the ball out of the post. I thought our perimeter guys had some pretty good looks, but you know what, the ball wouldn't go in the basket."

The victory also gave the Gators a sweep (6-0) of the SEC West for the first time in seven years, a fact that should also enhance their NCAA Tournament chances. Ole Miss, meanwhile, which was ranked in the Top 25 just a couple of weeks ago, fell to 17-9 overall and 5-7 in league play. Florida won despite shooting just 36.5 percent (19-of-52) from the field, including only 1-of-13 from 3-point range, and was outrebounded, 36-30.

Only by virtue of a trey by senior Dan Werner with six minutes left was UF able to extend its NCAA-record of consecutive games with a made 3-pointer to 605.

But the Gators again burned the nets from the foul stripe, knocking down 25-of-27 attempts (92.6 percent) less than 48 hours after making 32-of-40 in a win over Auburn Thursday night.

"I was really proud of our guys because on the road we really shot the ball poorly," head coach Billy Donovan said. "Our backcourt really struggled putting the ball in the basket, but I thought our team showed great resiliency and we hung in there and did the things that were important in the game that allowed us to pull away a little."

Macklin and fellow junior Chandler Parsons keyed a 13-5 Florida run to start the second half that turned a 30-29 halftime deficit into a 42-35 Gator lead with 15:34 remaining. UF was able to hold onto the lead until 2:30 was left to play when Terrico White connected on a 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 Rebels' run and give Ole Miss a 56-54 lead.

But Parsons, who had 13 points, tied it moments later when he knocked down a pair of free throws to tie it, and Tyus, who had nine points and four rebounds, forced a loose ball on the ensuing possession. Parsons picked up the ball and passed it ahead to Kenny Boynton (six points) on a runout, and the freshman slammed it home with a minute to play for a 58-56 Gator lead.

Walker, who had 10 points to give the Gators three players in double figures, then iced it by going a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 41.8 seconds, with the last two coming with only 12 seconds left to play.

Ole Miss, which finished the game 6-of-20 from 3-point range but was just 1-of-9 in the second half, did get off a potential game-tying shot from behind the arc by White, but it bounced off the front of the rim toward the Rebels' bench, and by the time it was retrieved, the horn sounded.

Sophomore Terrance Henry led the Rebels with 17 points and added six rebounds, while junior guard Chris Warren, Ole Miss' leading scorer (16.5 ppg), scored 14. Sophomore Murphy Holloway came off the bench to add nine points and eight rebounds.

Macklin was a one-man show for the Gators in the first half, hitting 7-of-8 shots from the field to keep UF close despite the rest of the team combining to hit just 4-of-21 (19 percent).

The Gators return home for another big conference tilt Tuesday night when they entertain No. 18 Tennessee. The game will be a prime time ESPN telecast with a 9 p.m. (ET) start. The Vols (20-6, 8-4) remained tied with UF for third in the SEC East by downing South Carolina, 63-55, on the road Saturday.

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