Former Ole Miss player and coach hands Rebels first loss in The Pavilion

Michael White had his Ole Miss homecoming Saturday. And, unfortunately for the home team, the night couldn’t have been more memorable for him.

The decorated former Ole Miss player and assistant coach handed the Rebels their first loss in The Pavilion at Ole Miss, leading Florida to a 80-71 win. The Gators improved to 11-6 on the year and 3-2 in Southeastern Conference games, while Ole Miss fell to 12-5 (2-3 SEC).

“It was a special night for me,” White said. “Oxford and Ole Miss mean a lot to me. I love this place - always have, always will. My wife loves this place. As I know Andy Kennedy’s probably talked about a few times, myself and 100 others have put a lot of sweat equity into this program. To see this beautiful facility and this environment and the place packed is a really neat thing. Night in and night out, I’m cheering for the Rebels unless they’re playing the Gators. More importantly, it was very much a quality win for this team that needed to break through on the road against a high-major opponent. To win on the road in the SEC is very difficult. 

During his time in a Rebel uniform, White was a four-year starter at point guard and helped lead Ole Miss to consecutive SEC West Division titles, three-straight NCAA Tournament berths and the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win in 1999. He was a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, and a member of the 1999 SEC Good Works Team.

His success as a player quickly translated to coaching. He spent seven years as an assistant at Ole Miss, with five under current Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy.

“Just odd, really,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to put your arms around it. I’ll always be a Rebel. Now I’m a Gator. You’re always rooting for these guys. I’ve always rooted for Andy and Bill Armstrong and Todd Abernethy and Bam Doyne’s on the bench now. I spent 11 years here. It’s just odd. And then to add to it you have the facility for the first time that, as an assistant and a player, that’s the dream. Now it’s here. I’m just really happy for everyone involved with Ole Miss. I’m happy for all Rebels. I’m happy all the Rebel donors stepped up. The place is beautiful. When you’re challenged with an SEC road game, I guess you’re able to keep those emotions … you don’t think about those things too much.”

A near-capacity crowd, who gave White a nice ovation prior to the game, saw Ole Miss lose its second-straight game. The Rebels fell behind early, 15-2, and never pulled closer than nine points.

Stefan Moody again led the team with 22 points on 6 of 15 shooting. Sebastian Saiz had 17 and six rebounds, while Rasheed Brooks added 14 and eight. However, Ole Miss got little else from its already thin bench, with Kennedy even reaching for freshman Terence Davis for 11 minutes - by far the most action Davis has seen this season.

“We’re just looking for energy,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to get more athletic; I think everybody can see that. Got to get more athletic. Our upperclassmen, there comes a time as a coach where you’ve got to say, ‘Guys, this ain’t getting it done.’ We’ve got to turn the page, and we’ve got to get other guys opportunities. Tonight, that was certainly the case, and T.D. took advantage of it.”

Kennedy said the move to Davis was the first in what could be a number of changes coming to his rotation. Tomasz Gielo has struggled with consistency all season, and he didn’t contribute much in the loss, totaling seven points and three rebounds. Anthony Perez, who Kennedy coined “one of the greatest mysteries in my 20 years of coaching,” had zero points and one rebound in 18 minutes.

“I wish I had a magic formula,” Kennedy said. “I don’t. Confidence never comes before performance. You have to perform. I’m going to try to put you in a position where you can perform and play to your strengths so that you can make a play. Then you’ll be confident. I don’t think the confidence can come first. You have to perform.”

Florida certainly performed Saturday. And White was glad to see it end.

“Glad the first one’s over, for sure,” he said. “The next time we come back it’ll be a little more normal. It was a great experience, obviously, because we won. But it would have been a great experience tonight if we won anywhere in the SEC on the road. It really was neat to see a bunch of friends.”

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