Lackadaisical finishes against strong opponents have become the trademark of Florida Gators basketball this season. The Gators had to once again hold on in the final minutes to defeat Ole Miss 70-63 in a game they had complete control of for most of the night. Florida led by as many as 20 points in the second half.
In the final four minutes of the game, Florida’s 18-point lead was trimmed to a six-point lead as the Rebels went on a 14-2 run. The Gators could not find production on either side of the ball in the final minutes. Kasey Hill was 0-for-4 from the foul line in that span, while Chris Chiozza was 1-for-3.
“We just lost focus,” said junior forward Devin Robinson. “We didn’t do the things that we did to start the game off. We just didn’t defend like we could defend and we just laid down. Luckily, we got the win, but if you wanna be a great team, that can’t happen.”
It can’t happen, but it has happened and continues to happen to this team. Something just stops clicking for the Gators when things are leaning in their favor towards the end of games. Florida has the potential to be a very good team, but consistency and focus is holding the team back in a lot of games.
“Focus is a word that we’ve used as much as any other word in the last month,” Mike White said. “You can ask any of our guys. It’s been a huge point of emphasis. We’ll have a lull in practice, we’ll have a lull at the end of practice and those things carry over and we saw it tonight. So hopefully this will be another learning experience for us. I don’t know how many you need. We’ve had plenty now where second halves we haven’t done what we’re supposed to do defensively, but again, I don’t want to take anything away from how difficult Ole Miss is to defend.”
The poor finish does not speak to the way the Gators defended for a majority of the night. The Rebels came into the game averaging 80.7 points per game, with four different players averaging double-digits this season. Deandre Burnett (18) and Sebastian Saiz (15) came away with double-digit nights, but the rest of the Rebels were held to quiet nights.
Florida forced 21 Ole Miss turnovers in the game, including 14 in the first half. One of the main points of focus for the Gators coming in was to limit the Rebels in offensive rebounding, which is one of their biggest strengths. Ole Miss came away with just seven offensive boards, while Florida had 12.
“We try to hang our hats on playing defense,” Robinson said. “We know we’re not gonna outscore you, so we just do what we have to and get stops. Coach was telling us how great of an offensive team this team was. We knew if we didn’t defend, they could’ve blew us out by 20 at home.”
Offensively, the Gators were led by Canyon Barry, who put up 20 points. He was 8-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-6 from three. Barry had been in an offensive slump for several weeks and needed a game like that to boost his confidence. When he is hot, it completely changes the dynamic of Florida’s offense.
“If he doesn’t come off the bench and have the game that he has, we’d be sitting here in the other column,” said White. “He was really good. That’s what he’s capable of. Again, just like any of us, he didn’t play a perfect game, but he was good. He was probably the MVP for us tonight.”
KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson also contributed offensively for the Gators. All of Allen’s points from the field were from long-range. He was 4-for-7 from beyond the arc on the night. Allen also made two huge free-throws that ultimately put the game away in the end. Robinson put up 11 points for his fourth consecutive double-digit performance.
With the win, the Gators are now 2-0 in SEC play, but they are not celebrating after the showing against Ole Miss at home. Robinson said after the game that it did not even feel like a win. Florida will continue to try to find a way to remain focused throughout the entire 40 minutes in practices this week before taking on Tennessee on Saturday.