Like the proverbial sitcom on-again-off-again love interest, the “will they or won’t they” speculation is over, Ole Miss is going to the NCAA Tournament after defeating top-seed Florida 66-63 for the SEC Championship.
Ole Miss started the season 17-2 and found themselves in great position in the field of 68. Then after losing 5 of 7 games, comfortability turned to despair. Then a loss to lowly Mississippi State in Starkville turned bleak Tourney hopes to Frankenstein mob after head coach Andy Kennedy. In typical Ole Miss fashion, there was another swing as they closed out their last two regular season games convincingly before taking down Missouri and Vanderbilt in the conference tournament. Still, many pundits did not believe that the 25-8 team was deserving of a ticket. Then came Florida.
The first half saw Florida dominate from the field, knocking down 7-14 threes. Ole Miss could not seem to get anything going offensively, settling for poor shots and falling behind by 12 at the half 38-26. But the Rebels were late-starters in the first two games, trailing by 7 to Mizzou and tying Vanderbilt.
That trend continued against Florida as Ole Miss took their first lead of the game on a Marshall Henderson free throw that made it 47-46 in the midst of their 26-8 run to start the half. There was an up-and-down battle the rest of the way, but the Rebels never fell behind by more than 2. Henderson had only 3 first half points, but finished with 18 more in the second half. The SEC Tournament MVP had 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals in the game and was integral in the offense with or without the ball.
Murphy Holloway, who earned player of the game honors, concluded with 23 points on 11-14 shooting with 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. A notoriously poor free throw shooter, Holloway made a crucial free throw at the end of the game to make it a three-point game. Like Henderson and Reginald Buckner, Holloway made the All-Tournament team.
A tyrant on defense, Buckner was a force on defense and altered numerous shots whether they were blocked or not. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 monster blocks. He also might have had the assist of the night on a pass to Holloway late in the game, one of 3 assists for him.
Snoop White overcame a retched 1-7 day from the field by helping everywhere else. White had career-highs with 10 rebounds and 4 assists and rarely fell out of position on defense. In fact, the whole team stumped the Gators on offense in the second half, holding them to just 25 points and forcing them to take subpar shots from the field. Florida shot 4-17 from three in the later period.
Mike Rosario led the way for Florida with 18 points (including 13 in the second half) and 9 rebounds. Kenny Boynton had 13 points and never got going after injuring his knee and elbow in a collision with Buckner. Michael Frazier had 9 early points for the Gators, but did not score for the rest of the game.
Ole Miss had more rebounds (37-30), assists (11-9), steals (9-8) and blocks (6-1). They also shot 47.4 percent as opposed to just 37.3 percent for Florida.
Florida (26-7) will likely by a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the brackets are announced at 5 p.m. CT.
Ole Miss (26-8) has heard their seeds vary from 7-12 with the latter being more likely.