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Florida 71, Ole Miss 55: Gators bounce back behind suffocating defense

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The Gators put a lid on the Rebels just days after being aerated by Missouri.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Florida Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The ESPN2 broadcast of the Florida Gators taking a 71-55 win over the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday was not keenly interested in the game itself, with play-by-play man Karl Ravech and color commentator Jimmy Dykes engaging in multiple conversations about Major League Baseball and the rat snake that slithered by them on Florida’s campus earlier in the day.

That’s a shame: Had they actually been calling the game, they might have been able to work up a metaphor about how the Gators suffocated Mike White’s alma mater to earn his 100th win at Florida.

One game after allowing a storm of threes — and an avalanche of points in the paint — at Missouri, the Gators choked down on an Ole Miss offense that was largely lost without leading scorer Breein Tyree, allowing the Rebels to shoot just 40 percent from the field and drain just three of their 16 threes.

And even most of the good shooting by the Rebels was contained to two stretches: A 18-6 span in the first half in which they made eight of 11 buckets and took a brief lead that never grew beyond three points, and the final 5:37, in which Ole Miss outscored Florida 16-11 with both benches heavily involved.

Before the first run, Florida bolted to a 17-6 edge. After it and before the final stretch, the Gators turned a three-point deficit into a 12-point halftime lead, then pushed their advantage to as many as 23 points in the second frame.

A defense that kept Ole Miss from shooting well and forced 18 turnovers — nine of them steals — should get most of the credit for that, but Florida’s offense also came out hot and eventually solved a Rebels zone that confused it briefly. And the 71 points were not helped all that much by the three — Florida made just three of 13 tries, though Noah Locke had two of them in so doing claiming the program record for consecutive games with a made three as his own — or the free throw line, where the Gators’ 16 makes and 20 attempts were both lows in conference play.

Mostly, the Gators did their scoring inside, with Keyontae Johnson (15 points, six boards, three assists, three steals) and Kerry Blackshear (13 points, nine rebounds) punishing the Rebels with drives and post-ups. Omar Payne (eight points on four shots, all makes) also outscored his fellow freshmen Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann (seven points combined), though Ques Glover did the same on a variety of jumpers and drives.

And Andrew Nembhard played a controlling, comfortable game after being flummoxed by Missouri, patiently getting his 10 points and six assists without ever pressing.

For Florida, this was a mature, confident response to a shocking loss — a sign, if one were predisposed to look for them, that this team is in fact growing and growing up.

Saturday’s showdown with Auburn will be sure to clarify whether it was a development or a mere outlier.