It would be tempting to chalk up the Florida Gators’ 90-86 overtime win over Ole Miss on Wednesday as the result of any number of individual heroic moments.
KeVaughn Allen hit the game-tying three with seconds left and made an incredible save — think Patric Young at Tennessee — in overtime, after all. Noah Locke hit six threes, all of them big. Andrew Nembhard stroked two threes, one of them at a point in overtime when Florida desperately needed breathing room. Kevarrius Hayes flashed everywhere on defense, trying his damnedest to make up for other defensive deficiencies. Keyontae Johnson established a new career high for points and rebounded like a bulldog.
But that’s the thing about a team: It’s about the team. And on a night when Florida advertised its basketball team as a collection of superheroes, the Gators finally managed to come up with some of their most inspiring basketball of the year — together.
Locke led all scorers with 22, but he needed those set shot threes set up. Allen had 21, but needed to get eight of those points at the line on a relatively cold (6-for-19, 1-for-7 from three) night, and needed his teammates to score enough to give him a chance to cape up at the most important moment — which makes his five assists more impressive. Hayes (nine points, eight boards) had to be compensated for when he hit the bench with foul trouble — as did Nembhard (12 points, six assists, four steals).
And Johnson, who had 15 points, six boards, two assists, and the full five fouls over the course of his best game as a Gator, needed to have teammates come through when he sat with a minor injury and after he was disqualified in overtime.
So Jalen Hudson getting six points mattered. Dontay Bassett scoring three points mattered. Isaiah Stokes doing precious little on defense but still making a bucket mattered. Florida being able to rely even more heavily on its freshman after mistakes made by Deaundrae Ballard (three turnovers and two fouls in nine minutes) and Michael Okauru (one turnover and two fouls in five minutes) mattered.
All the pieces matter. They always do, no matter what essential credit we give to any one player. You don’t get a 76-76 tie at the end of regulation without any of the free throws, or any of the baskets. You don’t survive Terence Davis and Breein Tyree catching fire and combining for 46 points unless you score more than 46 in response. You don’t get a win like this without Allen’s save — or Hayes rebounding before it to keep the ball in Florida’s clutches, or Nembhard making two free throws after it.
Florida hadn’t gotten a win like this all year, going 0-5 in games decided by five or fewer points prior to this night. Florida arguably hadn’t gotten a win over a likely NCAA Tournament team, either.
Now the Gators have one of each of those, and are about to embark on the hardest stretch of their season with concrete evidence that playing together and out of their minds and hard and so on can actually produce a win, rather than just the frustrating feeling of one slipping through their hands.
Maybe this spurs this team to levels it has not previously hit. Maybe it’s just a blip.
For a night, though, this felt good.