It looked bad for Florida at the Tad Pad The Gators were down 20-4 minutes into their visit to Mississippi, 38-28 at the half, 52-50 with just under six minutes to go. Things kept going right for Mississippi, with Nick Williams and the rest of the Rebels draining threes in the first half and Reginald Buckner finishing a wild second-half sequence with a thunderous follow dunk.
But the Gators just kept playing, and just kept chipping away at an Ole Miss lead that seemed like a preface to another disappointing road loss. And, instead, they got a 64-60 comeback win, the first one of the year that makes me think these Gators might be able to survive and advance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Erving Walker led Florida, scoring 10 points and dishing nine assists against just one turnover, with a huge assist from leading scorer Patric Young, who had 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench. Kenny Boynton had 12 points, all on threes, and Bradley Beal, Mike Rosario, and Erik Murphy had nine, eight, and seven points, respectively. That's balance.
After Florida allowed Mississippi to make all six of its threes in the first half, the Gators allowed the Rebels to make just one of six triples in the second half, and score just 22 points. And despite the Rebels outrebounding Florida 36-18, the Gators made Mississippi make mistakes, forcing 13 turnovers. That's success despite adversity.
And, most importantly, the Gators didn't panic. Walker didn't start trying to make plays, but instead ran Billy Donovan's offense; Young didn't play his best game, but executed again and again inside; Will Yeguete was more invisible than usual, but poked the ball out of Maurice Aniefiok's paws when Mississippi had a chance to tie the game late. That's poise and patience, and faith in Florida's ability to do its thing and weather every storm.
Florida still has a long way to go in the SEC just to get to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators could start their stretch run with this game, one that shows they can play their best away from home. Now they just need to show that a bit more often. If they do, they may yet be the Final Four team some thought they could be before the 2011-12 season began.