Ole Miss 66, Florida 63: Rebels Win SEC Tournament

Andy Lyons

The SEC Tournament has a new champion who hasn't worn the crown in a while.

Ole Miss took down top-seeded Florida 66-63 to win only its second SEC Tournament ever, with the last one having come in 1981. The Rebels also secured the conference's auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, finally giving Andy Kennedy his dancing ticket in Oxford.

Florida controlled the game for the first half, looking every bit like the favorite it was. The Gators took a 38-26 lead into intermission, and their defense had held Marshall Henderson to only three points. Murphy Holloway was the only player in red to have a decent half. UF appeared ready to cruise to a tournament title.

There were two problems with that for UF, as it turned out. One, Florida came out after the break acting like a team that thought it would cruise to a victory. Two, Henderson has been a second-half player all tournament long. He finally caught fire, giving Holloway some help and igniting a comeback. The Gators played like a team that was tired: jacking up too many threes, falling asleep on defense, and generally not paying too much attention to things happening down low. The Rebels played like a team possessed, full of energy and life.

Florida had a chance at the end to tie or take the lead, but the Gators' lack of a clear go-to guy revealed itself yet again. After Casey Prather stole an inbound pass headed for Henderson with 29 seconds to go, the Gators had a chance to set up a play down by two. They ended up going with Erik Murphy in the post, despite him having shot 3-for-10 on the day at the time. He missed an off-balance hook shot with plenty of time to go. After Holloway made only one of his free throws at the other end, Ole Miss wisely fouled Scottie Wilbekin to avoid letting UF get a clean three. He missed them both, the second intentionally, and Kenny Boynton missed an off-balance three off of the tipped rebound as time expired.

Holloway was the star of the game, with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds. Henderson scored 18 in the second half to end up with 21 total. Murphy, Boynton, and Wilbekin combined for just 11-of-33 shooting on the day, with only Mike Rosario having a good shooting day (7-of-14 for 18 points). Murphy briefly left the game in the first half with a leg injury, and he wasn't very good after coming back. The biggest problem of all for Florida was going a miserable 8-of-17 from the free throw line.

Ole Miss can just relax and celebrate this evening, and it has all kinds of momentum going into the Big Dance. The Gators, meanwhile, have a lot of questions to answer. How healthy are they? Do they have a go-to player? Can they make it not matter? We'll soon find out.

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