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Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin drives to the basket in Sunday's SEC Tournament Championship Game.

Sunday March 17, 2013Gators Unable to Survive Ole Miss Rally, Fall 66-63 in SEC Tournament Championship Game

Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin drives to the basket in Sunday's SEC Tournament Championship Game.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Even in their darkest hours -- and some of those second halves were pitch black -- the Florida Gators at least could take some comfort in knowing their defense stood tall and would be a constant throughout the season. 

They can't say that now. 

Ole Miss, led by lightning-rod guard Marshall Henderson's mad-bombing antics, erased a double-digit second-half deficit and shocked the top-seeded and 13th-ranked Gators with a 66-63 comeback victory in the Sunday championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. 

 "Tale of two halves," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "For both teams." 

 Burly forward Murphy Holloway pounded and posted for 23 points on 11-for-14 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Henderson keyed the rally by scoring 18 of his 21 points in a second half the Gators (26-7) began with a 12-point lead. 

 That cushion of a dozen was zapped when the Rebels (26-8) went on a 26-8 tear out of the locker room and took the pro-Ole Miss crowd of 12,138 with them. 

 Though Mississippi twice led by six points, Florida rallied to re-take a one-point edge the first time, only to succumb to a quick seven-point run by the Rebels. 

 Back came the Gators, who got within two and had three chances to tie the score, but freshman guard Michael Frazier missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3:04 to go, senior forward Erik Murphy rimmed a short jump hook with 22 seconds left and senior guard Kenny Boynton's desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced away. 

 "Our fight was good, but our defense wasn't," Murphy said. "That's what came back to bite us." 

 Or as Frazier put it, "They did a good job of running their stuff. We did a terrible job of stopping it." 

 UF led 38-26 at halftime after smothering the Rebels into 12-for-29 shooting and limited a frustrated Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer, to just 1-for-6 from the floor, 1-for-4 from the arc and three points. 

 Offensively, the Gators hit 46 percent of their shots and were a hot 7-for-14 from deep, with Frazier nailing a trio of treys off the bench. 

 Then in the second half? 

 "I thought we got very stagnant," Donovan said after watching his team score just 25 second-half points on 29-percent shooting, with Murphy and guard Scottie Wilbekin combining to make just six of 22 shots and two of 12 3-point tries. "I thought we dribbled around way too much. I didn't feel like the ball was moving. I didn't feel like we took advantage of what they were trying to do against us."

 The Rebels, meanwhile, used Florida's icy shooting to get the game going to Henderson's run-and-gun liking. 

 Ole Miss scored the half's first five points, but senior guard Mike Rosario (18 points, career-high 9 rebounds) calmed things down with a 3-pointer. Momentarily. 

 Then came the game-altering sequence. 

 After a short Holloway jumper cut UF's margin to eight, Rosario drove the lane and tossed up a bank-shot that Holloway appeared to touch after it hit the glass. 

 "From my angle, that's a goal-tend," Donovan said. "No call." 

 The Rebels got out in transition and Henderson bombed a 3-pointer. Instead of a 10-point Florida lead, Ole Miss was within five and on their way to a 21-5 spree that twice had Wilbekin called for fouling Henderson on 3-point attempts. 

 He made all six free throws. 

 Right about then, Henderson started doing the Gator Chomp at the Florida section. 

 "Gator bait," Henderson said afterward. 

 He was named tournament MVP, by the way. 

 "Obviously the Marshall Henderson show is like the traveling circus. It's up, it's down. We got the high wire act over here, the ponies here, we got all kinds of nonsense going on, and he draws a lot of attention," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "But he's a big shot-maker."

 The Gators had their chances to be shot-makers, but they struggled to even be free throw-makers. UF went just 8-for-17 from the line (47 percent) on Sunday, keeping in step with the tournament when they combined to go 31-57 over the three games (54.4 percent). 

 When Frazier, who was 87 percent for the season, misses, things are bad. 

 Even so, it was an intentional miss by Wilbekin with 4.2 seconds and the Gators down three that gave them one last chance. Donovan wanted two makes and to go for a five-second call or quick foul, but Wilbekin missed the first of two, which meant he had to miss the second and hope UF controlled the offensive rebound. 

 The ball bounced high, Murphy tipped the ball out -- right to Boynton, who got off a hurried one that looked like it had a chance. 

 "It was kind of a rushed shot," Boynton said. 

 Like Florida's quest to pair an SEC regular-season title with a tournament title for only the second time in school history, it didn't go down. 

 

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