OXFORD, Miss. | The feel-good, 4-0 SEC start is over.
Florida simply didn’t show enough fight in a 78-72 loss at Ole Miss that was punctuated by foul trouble, defensive lapses and missed opportunities to score at the rim. Before 6,457 at The Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Rebels played inspired while Florida looked tired.
“Both teams battled,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Ole Miss a little bit harder. I thought they played with great edge and great character and physicality. They won a majority of 50-50 balls, in my opinion, down the stretch in the second half. They wanted it a little bit more.”
The X-factor in the game was Ole Miss junior center Bruce Stevens, a JUCO transfer who single-handedly got UF’s frontline in foul trouble on the way to a career-high 22 points. After Florida cut Ole Miss’s lead to 72-70 on a pair of Jalen Hudson free throws with 1:46 left, Ole Miss went back inside to the 6-foot-8, 252-pound Stevens, who muscled a shot over Florida center Kevarrius Hayes to put Ole Miss back ahead 74-70 with 1:28 remaining.
When normally reliable senior point guard Chris Chiozza then short-armed a layup with 1:06 left, the Gators were in desperate straits. Chiozza redeemed himself with a quick steal on a press on an in-bounds play, but redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone turned the ball back over on a drive attempt to the basket, allowing the Rebels to retain possession.
Any last chance of a comeback was thwarted when, with Ole Miss up 75-70 and 49 seconds, the Gators failed to block out on a second missed free throw by Breein Tyree. In a juggling fight for the loose ball, Ole Miss junior guard Terrence Davis came up with it. The Gators were forced to foul Tyree again, with Hudson fouling out on the play. Tyree made both free throws to put Ole Miss up 77-70.
Stone scored a career-high 23 points for the Gators (12-5, 4-1 SEC) before fouling out with 6.1 seconds left. Florida had its modest six-game win streak come to an end. Already short-handed with freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard out for the second straight game with an illness, Florida suffered another blow to its depth when sophomore center Gorjok Gak suffered a concussion in the first half and did not return.
“We know we have to be tougher, scrappier,” Stone said. “We know we’re not going to get that many calls on the road. We just have to learn, calls aren’t going to go our way, some dudes are going to get injured, we’ve just got to play through it.”
Chiozza, overcoming his own bout with strep throat, logged 37 minutes, finishing with seven points, six rebounds and four assists to end a string of eight consecutive games scoring in double figures. Senior guard Egor Koulechov had 11 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes to post his third double-double of the season and first since Nov. 19 against New Hampshire, while Hudson had 11 points off the bench.
But it wasn’t enough to a porous second-half defensive effort, which has become a familiar theme for this Gator squad. After limiting Ole Miss to 30.3 percent shooting in the first half, Florida allowed the Rebels to shoot 60 percent from the floor and score 47 points in the second half.
Ole Miss (10-7, 3-2 SEC) quickly wiped out a 52-44 Florida lead with 12:42 left, on back-to-back 3-pointers by Markel Crawford and Deandre Burnett and an inside layup by Marcanvis Hymon that tied that score at 52. Three trips down the floor. Three straight baskets.
“The crowd got back into it,” Stone said. “That got into our head and we sped up, made a couple of costly turnovers.”
Burnett added 20 points for Ole Miss, while Crawford, a grad transfer from Memphis, had 17 points.
“When they’ve got it going offensively they are as hard to guard as anybody in our league,” White said.