Nobody's into moral victories. But a 78-68 loss for the Rebels would have to be considered an extremely positive effort in game one of the Southeastern Conference season.
"We wanted our kids to approach this game with confidence, and that's easier said than done," said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy after his team fell to 9-6 on the season. "We saw some guys that weren't as confident as we would like early in the game. As the game went on, I think they grew up some. We talked about composure, and that kind of goes along with confidence. There were moments where we didn't look very composed. We threw the ball around and we had 19 turnovers. We're putting guys into position now that they're not used to. But we really competed."
Indeed they did. The Rebels, who had cut the 20-plus advantage down to 53-39 at halftime, actually were within striking distance late. The Rebels trailed by as few as six points at 74-68 on a David Huertas basket with 2:07 left. But the Gators held Ole Miss scoreless the rest of the way for the 10-point victory.
The former Florida player Huertas led his team with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Zach Graham played a key role for the Rebels, especially in the first half, and finished with 14 points. Murphy Holloway had 11.
Ole Miss, with so many challenges this season on the boards, outrebounded Florida 46-22, including 18-4 on the offensive boards.
"Anytime you can come to Florida and outrebound them by 24, you give yourself a chance," Kennedy said. "We defended a little better in the second half. Florida finally cooled off. They were on a torrid pace to start the game. We could have easily wilted."
But the Rebels didn't as they continued to play hard and compete and actually had a shot at the end.
"I was pleased we were only down 14 at the half," Kennedy said. "They shot 62 percent and over 50 percent from 3. We left a lot of plays on the floor. I was pleased with our effort. Hopefully we can learn from this and use it our next outing against Arkansas Wednesday night in Oxford."
Ole Miss shot 46 percent for the game and Florida 48 percent. The Rebels shot 36 percent from 3-point range and the Gators 38 percent. From the free throw line, the Rebs were only 11-of-21 for 52 percent. Florida was 15-of-20 for 75 percent.
The Gators had only eight turnovers to 19 for the Rebels, and that was a key stat in the contest.
Nick Calathes led three Gators in double figures with 19 points. Florida is now 14-2 on the season.
Ole Miss hosts Arkansas at Tad Smith Coliseum Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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