In a game that embodied the all the toughness, physicality, and talent level of the excellent Southeastern Conference the Gators dropped a heartbreaking 78-72 contest to the Ole Miss Rebels. Though there were many swings throughout the afternoon the game almost always remained within a few possessions, but the Rebels were able to get key buckets down the stretch while the Gators were only able to muster a single field goal in the final seven minutes of play which was ultimately the deciding factor. Keith Stone played an excellent game for the Gators posting 23 points (a career high) and 8 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to outscore Ole Miss’ talented trio of Bruce Stevens (22 points), Deandre Burnett (20 points) and Markel Crawford (17).
Coach Mike White has preached on multiple occasions that the Gators needed to be tougher and today the Gators were bullied in many aspects of the game. Whether it was Bruce Stevens and Marcanvis Hymon down low carving out space for easy buckets or Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis throwing defenders off them on their way to the hoop, the Rebels were a more physically dominant and tough team and it ultimately lead to their victory. Every game in the SEC is going to be a physical test for the Gators and this may have been an eye opener for some players about how this season is going to be. With games against grinding Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Baylor (in the Big 12-SEC challenge) upcoming, they will need to ratchet up the mental and physical toughness.
Stone’s Career Night
It wasn’t long ago I was writing about Keith Stone’s previous career high in points but tonight he took it to another level, pouring in 23 points and using his skills to pick apart defenders. With 18 free throw attempts (he hit 13 of them) he was quickly approaching Florida’s school record of 22 free throw attempts in a game (held by Joakim Noah who actually hit 19 of them!). He seems to get more and more active every single game and is becoming a more and more reliable player for the Gators offensively while also constantly improving his interior defense. He will continue to be a key cog for this Florida team.
Free Throw Battle
Entering the game with the misfortune of giving up the 4th highest free throw percentage in the country, the Gators continued their bad luck with free throw “defense” by having the Rebels (who normally shoot 70.6% from the line) go 22-25 (88%) from the charity stripe. Florida shot a respectable 16-22 for 72.7%, but their bad luck when it comes to opponent free throw shooting is just becoming comical at this point.
More Injury Problems
After taking a nasty elbow to the chops that left him on the floor for several minutes, Gorjok Gak was taken out of the game with a suspected concussion. Not only did this challenge the already thin Florida frontcourt, but I think Gak’s 11 minutes in the first half were some of his better basketball of the season. Gak’s absence also lead to the necessity for heavy minutes from Egor Koulechov (37 minutes) and Keith Stone (35 minutes) and the tired legs these guys had could have contributed to some key misses on jump shots and free throws they had late in the second half. No word yet on how long this could affect him and keep him out, so it will be another health situation to monitor on a team that has been really bitten by the injury bug.
Deaundrae Ballard had to miss this afternoon’s game due to the same sickness that held him out against Mississippi State. With a few days until Florida plays again, hopefully he can reach full recovery and get back into the lineup. Against an Ole Miss backcourt that could really score the Gators could have used him energy off the bench so his absence was really felt. Okauru played pretty well taking on Ballard’s minutes and going 2-4 from the 3-point line and it’s great to see his confidence continue to grow.
What’s Up Next
The Gators go home to Gainesville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks on January 17. Starting their season with a prominent run in the non-conference portion, the Razorbacks have struggled in SEC play currently sitting at 1-3 going into their game tonight against Missouri. Arkansas is a team with high-end starters that haven’t been able to get a lot from their bench, but if the Gators can’t slow down their top-level starters this could be a rough one. They will have to look past the Razorback’s unglamorous SEC record and be prepared to take on a talented team.