OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Marshall Henderson’s early hot shooting helped put Mississippi in position to pull off an upset victory over No. 2 Florida.
But his touch disappeared in the second half and so did the Rebels’ chances at a galvanizing victory.
The Gators fought off Henderson and the Rebels for a 75-71 victory on Saturday afternoon at Tad Smith Coliseum. Scottie Wilbekin scored 18 and Michael Frazier II added 17 as Florida extended its school-record winning streak to 19 games.
Henderson led the Rebels with 22 points, but all of them came in the first half. Jarvis Summers scored 20 and Anthony Perez added 10.
“We gave a winning effort,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “But we’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make plays.”
Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) has lost four in a row and its chance at an NCAA tournament at-large bid looks extremely bleak.
The game was tied at 59 with eight minutes left, but Florida scored the next seven points to take control. Henderson missed all six of his shots in the second half.
The Gators (25-2, 14-0) could very well be the No. 1 team in the country when the new polls are released on Monday. The current No. 1 Syracuse lost on Wednesday to Boston College.
But Frazier and Florida coach Billy Donovan said that won’t mean much.
“This team understands that the whole is greater than its parts,” Donovan said. “But we need to play better and I’m talking about that from an effort standpoint.”
Ole Miss badly needed a quality win for its mediocre NCAA tournament resume and played like a desperate team for much of the afternoon.
But the Gators steadily put the Rebels away with quality offensive possessions late in the second half.
Florida had to survive Henderson’s impressive barrage in the first half just to have a chance.
It’s not the first time Henderson has had a big moments against the Gators. He scored 21 points against Florida last season in the SEC tournament championship – adding a memorable Gator Chomp motion as the Rebels ended up winning 66-63.
And it was quickly apparent on Saturday that the 6-foot-2 senior was feeling good again. He shot 7 of 14 from the field – including 5 of 11 from 3-point range – as the two teams fought to an entertaining 42-all tie by halftime.
The Gators’ vaunted defense, which is easily the best statistically in the SEC, had few answers for Henderson early. He made several difficult shots with a hand in his face.
It didn’t last.
Henderson cooled off in the second half – missing those tough looks that had gone in during the first half – and Florida did enough offensively to win.
“We had a heightened sense of urgency to start the second half, especially on (Henderson),” Frazier said. “We did a better job of staying locked in on him and staying locked in as a whole.”
The Rebels stayed in the game thanks to a big second half from Anthony Perez and Summers. Perez made a layup to tie it at 59.
But Florida responded quickly. Wilbekin stole the ball and passed down the court to Patric Young, who finished with a dunk. Casey Prather made a 10-foot jumper on the next possession and the Gators never trailed again.
Florida was relentlessly efficient down the stretch, scoring on nearly every possession in the final minutes.
Young added 12 points and five rebounds for the Gators. He made four straight crucial free throws in the final minutes to help Florida keep its lead.
Henderson finished 7 of 20 from the field, including 5 of 16 from 3-point range. He tied Pat Bradley’s SEC record by hitting a 3-pointer in a 60th consecutive game.
Kennedy said he hasn’t given up hope for the Rebels making second straight NCAA tournament. The Rebels had a similar February swoon last season before winning the SEC tournament and making the Big Dance for the first time since 2002.
“Based on what we’ve done right now, we’re not relevant to the NCAA tournament as far as the conversation is today,” Kennedy said. “But let me point out that at this time last year, we weren’t relevant to the conversation either.”
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP