OXFORD, MISS. — Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson unleashed a first-half scoring spree that put No. 2 Florida’s school-record winning streak in danger.
The Gators were impressed. And then they made sure it didn’t happen again.
Jolted awake by Henderson’s 22 points in the first half, Florida clamped down to keep him scoreless in the second half and then fought its way to a 75-71 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Scottie Wilbekin scored 18 points and Michael Frazier II added 17 as the Gators (25-2, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) extended their winning streak to 19 games.
“We had a heightened sense of urgency to start the second half, especially on [Henderson],” Frazier said. “We did a better job of staying locked in on him and staying locked in as a whole.”
Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7) has lost four in a row. Jarvis Summers added 20 points for the Rebels.
The game was tied at 59 with eight minutes left, but Florida scored the next seven points to take control. Henderson missed all six of his shots in the second half.
The Gators could very well be the No. 1 team in the country when the new polls are released on Monday. The current No. 1 Syracuse lost on Wednesday and again on Saturday.
But Frazier and Florida coach Billy Donovan said that won’t mean much.
“This team understands that the whole is greater than its parts,” Donovan said. “But we need to play better, and I’m talking about that from an effort standpoint.”
Ole Miss badly needed a quality win for its mediocre NCAA tournament resume and played like a desperate team for much of the afternoon.
But the Gators steadily put the Rebels away with quality offensive possessions late in the second half.
“We gave a winning effort,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “But we’ve got to make plays, and we didn’t make plays.”
Florida had to survive Henderson’s impressive barrage in the first half just to have a chance.
It’s not the first time Henderson has had a big moments against the Gators. He scored 21 points against Florida last season in the SEC tournament championship — adding a memorable Gator Chomp motion as the Rebels ended up winning 66-63.
And it was quickly apparent on Saturday that the 6-foot-2 senior was feeling good again. He shot 7 of 14 from the field — including 5 of 11 from 3-point range — as the two teams fought to an entertaining 42-all tie by halftime.
The Gators’ vaunted defense, which is easily the best statistically in the SEC, had few answers for Henderson early. He made several difficult shots with a hand in his face.
It didn’t last.
Henderson cooled off in the second half — missing those tough looks that had gone in during the first half — and Florida did enough offensively to win.
“You’re not going to prevent [Henderson] from shooting, and in the first half it was a wash — him versus our team,” Donovan said. “In the second half, it just didn’t go in.”
The Rebels stayed in the game thanks to a big second half from Anthony Perez and Summers. Perez made a layup to tie it at 59.
But Florida responded quickly. Wilbekin stole the ball and passed down the court to Patric Young, who finished with a dunk. Casey Prather made a 10-foot jumper on the next possession, and the Gators never trailed again.
Young added 12 points and five rebounds for the Gators, who haven’t lost since Dec. 2, to UConn.