Ole Miss came into the SEC Tournament as a proverbial bubble team. They leave as a solid NCAA participant. The inside play of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner plus the pomp, circumstance, and swagger of Marshall Henderson carried the Rebels to a 66-63 win over Florida in the SEC Final on Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena.
Murphy Holloway was the key to an Ole Miss SEC title Sunday as he went 11-of-14 from the floor and scored 23 points in the Rebels’ 66-63 win over Florida.
Everything had fallen into place for the Gators in the first 20 minutes as Florida had a 38-26 halftime lead. From there, Ole Miss started to move as Reginald Buckner began to control the paint as Murphy Holloway had done in the first half. Then this allowed Marshall Henderson to catch and try to shoot. Twice he was fouled on three-point shots and twice he made all three free throws. At that point with Florida struggling to score, you could feel the momentum shift and it never shifted again.
Holloway finished 11-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-7 in the first half as he kept the Rebels within shouting distance.
“Obviously the Marshall Henderson show is like a traveling circus,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, “It’s up, it’s down. We got a high wire act over her, the ponies, here. We got all kinds of nonsense going on and he draws a lot of attention. The dirty work and the grind is done by these 3 guys that are on this podium earlier (Holloway, Buckner, and Nick Williams). Murphy carried us early once we tried to find our rhythm Reggie was tenaciosu at the basket. He blocked three, but altered at least another five.”
Holloway found his success on the boxes, scoring his Ole Miss’s last 10 points in the first half to keep Florida from pushing it’s 12-point halftime advantage.
“I didn’t want the game to get to far away from us,” said Holloway, “I made plays based off hustle. We kept the game close and managed to come out with the win.”
In the Rebels’ game-changing run, that second set of three free throws by Henderson put Ole Miss ahead at 48-46 and then Buckner stretched it to 52-46. Donovan was aghast at the foul calls which set Henderson up in perfect position for him to get into the flow of the game as he had struggled to that point.
“I love his pass
Florida saw it’s last lead on a triple from Erik Murphy at 53-52 and in a flash it was Henderson who scored on a drive in the lane then picked up a long rebound on a missed three on the next possession and drained his own three.
The Gators were within two on two other occasions, but again, unraveled in a close game as they missed their last seven free throws. Probably most troubling for Billy Donovan was when Casey Prather stripped Henderson in the backcourt, down 65-63. After a Gators timeout, Erick Murphy missed in the lane. Florida had ample opportunities but couldn’t take advantage.
“I think the first thing is we put outselves in a situation where we had to fight our way back,” said Donovan, “I thought Mike Frazier’s missed free throws to tie the game would have put a different edge on the game. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to work on getting a good look. Erik has a five-foot jump hook. We gave ourselves a chance. We executed good down the stretch.
Donovan was upset with his defense, a staple all year, that allowed Ole Miss to go 15-of-28 from the floor and score 40 points in the second half. Meanwhile for Kennedy, it was vindication. Rumors had him on the hot seat if he didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament with this team and as of last week, it was almost a long shot.
“Obviously, this is a big moment for our program and a big moment for these seniors,” noted Kennedy, “We knew this was possible if we stayed together and focused on the things we could control.”
Holloway paced Ole Miss with his workmanlike 23 points and nine boards while Henderson added 21. It was the first basketball championship of any kind for the Rebels since they won the 1981 SEC Tournament.
- Ken Cross
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