Florida led 64-61 with 12 seconds remaining. The Rebels put the ball in the hands of their best player, Terrico White, to keep a disappointing season alive.
Overtime was the only option. The Gators had already made 25-of-27 free throws in the game, including six by Erving Walker in the last 40 seconds.
White had an open look, but time was ticking away. Last season's SEC Freshman of the Year had given his team a 56-54 advantage just minutes earlier. He was the guy. It was the storyline finish.
Miss. Wide left.
Chris Warren grabbed the rebound, but there would be no second shot. The final horn sounded and Ole Miss had dropped its fifth game in six tries. This time, it was a 64-61 final in front of an announced crowd of 7,071 inside Tad Smith Coliseum Saturday.
Same song, different verse. Barring an unforeseen run in the SEC Tournament, Ole Miss' eight-season NCAA Tournament drought is sure to drag out another year.
"It was, obviously, a tightly-contested game," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said, his team's 61 points a season low. "Both teams were playing with a lot on the line."
None more than Ole Miss.
Throughout the 2009-10 season, Ole Miss (17-9, 5-7 SEC) has developed an unrelenting tendency to foul. The Rebels were bitten yet again in a game they, as redundant as it sounds, desperately needed.
For the game, Ole Miss shot only 11 free throws, with nine makes, while Florida (19-8, 8-4) made its living from the charity stripe. Florida scored 15 of its final 20 points against air. Call it Ole Miss' Achilles heel, if you will.
After White's 3-pointer to lead, Zach Graham drew a whistle away from the ball. Chandler Parsons quickly followed with two free throws to tie the game. Eniel Polynice committed his seventh turnover on the next offensive possession with one minute left. Kenny Boynton turned the miscue into points on the other end.
"It's really frustrating," Kennedy said. "The end of the day, no one remembers this shot or that shot. All you remember is what's on that sheet of paper; whether or not it went in the left column or the right column. For us, that one statistic (fouls) has been alarmingly disproportionate all season."
Ole Miss was mistreated in the paint, as well. Florida was only 1-of-13 on 3-point tries. The remainder came through 34 points in the lane.
Center Vernon Macklin scored 16 of his career-high 22 points in the first half to lead the Gators. Parsons added 13 points and eight rebounds. Walker followed with 10, though he was 0-for-4 from long distance and 2-of-10 from the field.
Terrance Henry paced the Rebels with 17 points and six rebounds. Warren was the only other player to notch double digits with 14 points.
"It's tough. We had high expectations coming into the season," sophomore forward Murphy Holloway, who had nine points and eight rebounds in a losing effort, said of the team's all but dashed NCAA Tournament hopes. "Just for it to go the way it's going right now...it hurts."
Ole Miss fell behind 4-0 early in the first half, but responded with a 10-0 run. The Rebels held their largest lead of the frame at 20-13. However, Florida quickly erased the deficit, as six-straight points cut it to one at the 7:36 mark. Ole Miss maintained its advantage and led at halftime, 30-29, thanks to seven points apiece by Warren and Henry.
Florida opened the second half on a 13-5 run to move ahead 42-35. Ole Miss trailed 46-41 with just under nine minutes to play, but battled back to within one on consecutive baskets by Henry and Holloway. However, with another 6-0 spurt, Florida again led by seven at 52-45.
"When we go into the locker room after the game, it's just silence," Holloway said. "We always have fun. It's just, when you get to losing, the fun goes away. Losing's not fun."
Ole Miss shot 42 percent from the floor, compared to 37 percent for Florida. The Rebels were good on 6-of-20 3-pointers, and also held the edge in rebounds, 36-30.
"It's very disappointing knowing we needed these two games and basically gave them away," Henry said of consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Florida. "But like we talked about, it's not over until we say it's over. We still have a little part of the season to do something, to make some noise."
The Rebels return to action Wednesday as they play host to Auburn at 7 p.m.
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