With a tournament bid hanging in the balance, the Ole Miss Rebels managed to erase any possibility of missing out on the Big Dance with their 66-63 win over the Florida Gators in the 2013 SEC tournament final.
The first half went decidedly to the Gators, as they led 38-26 going into halftime.
Florida really suffocated Marshall Henderson, holding him to just 1-of-6 shooting from the field for three points.
On the other hand, the Gators shot 13-of-28 from the floor, including 7-of-14 from behind the three-point line. Good shooting has always been the answer for the zone defense, as Florida displayed.
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes mentioned during the game's broadcast that the court almost seemed tilted for Ole Miss. The Rebels looked to move much faster up the court on offense than they had on defense. That certainly seemed the case in the first half.
The second half was a completely different story.
The Rebels offense, particularly Henderson, looked much better, and shots started falling. More importantly, Ole Miss exerted much more effort on the defensive end of the floor and limited opportunities for Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario.
Slowly but surely, the Rebels began chipping away at the Gators lead.
Eventually they took a 48-46 lead with 12:16 left in the game after three free throws from Henderson. While Florida made it close, Ole Miss just proved to have too much, and the Gators couldn't find a big shot in key moments.
Henderson finished the game with 21 points. He really came alive in the second half, and his constant movement stumped the Gators, who had no answer for him.
This transition three-pointer, which pulled Ole Miss to within five points with 16:40 left in the game, best displays Henderson's all-conquering second half:
Despite Henderson's strong play, it was Murphy Holloway who had the best performance for the Rebels. He recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Boynton and Rosario combined for 31 points for the Gators, but they didn't receive much support. Florida hit a wall in the second half and went ice-cold when it came to shooting. It only finished 22-of-59 from the floor.
As the Gators watched their lead dwindle and eventually evaporate, Boynton's poor shot selection became even more visible. Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com pointed out that nobody should have been surprised:
"Why do you take that shot if you're Boynton?" says guy who answers his own questions.— Thomas Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) March 17, 2013
Henderson's antics on the court have not made many fans among those who don't follow the Rebels. Neal McCready of RebelGrove.com offered a defense of the star:
I understand the people who don't like Marshall Henderson's antics. However, I don't get those who hate him for loving to play the game.— Neal McCready (@NealMcCready) March 17, 2013
Of course, Henderson couldn't control himself as Ole Miss went ahead and taunted the Gators fans in attendance. Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger made note of the incident:
Marshall Henderson just rainbowed a 3 in to give Ole Miss a 59-53 lead, then Gator chomped the Florida fans. Holy crap.— Hugh Kellenberger (@HKellenbergerCL) March 17, 2013
As Billy Donovan saw the game slipping, he showed a side of himself not often seen during games. Dan Wolken of USA Today nicely characterized Donovan's actions:
Billy Donovan is getting his Bobby Knight on— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 17, 2013
With Ole Miss now officially in the NCAA tournament, ESPN made light of how close the Rebels came to possibly missing out altogether:
Remember when Ole Miss was on the bubble? Neither do they. The Rebels just earned an automatic tournament bid. #SECChampions— ESPN (@espn) March 17, 2013
Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean tweeted out a photo of Henderson cutting down the nets:
Kenny Boynton: C+
Boynton had a very good first half. He didn't take a ton of shots and racked up 11 points. However, all of the restraint he showed earlier in the game completely disappeared as the second half progressed.
He's the kind of player who can absolutely kill you when he's off, and that's what happened in the second half. Boynton finished the game with just 13 points and turned the ball over on three occasions.
With the tournament ahead, Boynton must find some consistency and take smarter shots if the Gators want any chance of making a Final Four push.
Erik Murphy: C
Erik Murphy carried an injury into the game and had to step into the locker room for a little bit because of it. That's the only reason he doesn't receive a lower grade.
Murphy really struggled the entire game. As the Gators' leading scorer, you would have expected him to have a much better performance. He only shot 3-of-11 from the floor, including 1-of-6 from three-point range.
An injury is no excuse for taking so many poor shots. Both he and Boynton really hampered the Gators down the stretch.
Marshall Henderson: A
Henderson has made a habit of starting a game slowly, only to explode in key moments. That's exactly what he did today.
It wouldn't be a true Henderson performance if he didn't antagonize the opposing fans. His Gator Chomp took a lot of guts, especially with a lot of time left to play. It's the kind of move that very easily could have come back to bite him.
Instead, Henderson remained as defiant and confident as ever. His attitude and effort on the court were infectious for his teammates. He injected a much-needed sense of belief into the Rebels' play.
Murphy Holloway: A+
Holloway was the Rebels' lone bright spot in the first half. He had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting before halftime. Without his play, Ole Miss would have been down by a lot more than 12 at the half.
The Gators simply had no answer whatsoever for Holloway as the game went on. He put on a fantastic post display.
As previously noted, Holloway recorded the only double-double of the game. Henderson's output was vital, but the way Holloway took the game over was the biggest factor in Ole Miss coming away with the victory.