GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida responded from its worst performance of the season with one of its best.
It’s what most everyone has come to expect from coach Mike White’s consistently inconsistent team.
Keyontae Johnson scored 15 points, Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 13 and the Gators handled undermanned Ole Miss 71-55 on Tuesday night.
Coming off a 16-point loss at Missouri, the Gators (11-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) were considerably more efficient on both ends against the Rebels (9-7, 0-3). They shot 54% from the field and forced 18 turnovers.
“We definitely needed a win after that,” Florida point guard Andrew Nembhard said. “It was kind of a bad loss for us at Missouri.”
Nembhard sliced through Ole Miss’ zone defense repeatedly, getting to the rim with NBA moves and finishing with 10 points and six assists.
Johnson did a little bit of everything, making 6 of 7 shots and adding chipping in six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Blackshear chipped in nine rebounds for Florida, ending up one board shy of his eighth double-double of the season.
“Just coming out with more edge, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Nembhard said. “We’ve been slacking these last few games. We picked it up a lot on that side of the ball.”
Ole Miss played without leading scorer Breein Tyree, a senior who is averaging 17.8 points a game. Tyree bruised his back while landing hard on the floor in practice. Starting center Khadim Sy also didn’t make the trip.
“We thought he may play,” coach Kermit Davis said of Tyree. “I know one thing: when he can play, he’ll play. He just took a heck of a fall. Guy tried to block his shot, physical play, real clean play. I hope he’ll be available for LSU.”
KJ Buffen paced Ole Miss with 20 points. Sophomore Blake Hinson added 16 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double in college.
“I thought for the most part we competed,” Davis said. “We had a lot of guys that obviously hadn’t played that many minutes.”
The Gators were up 40-28 at halftime and scored the first seven points coming out of the locker room to really pull away. They led by as many as 23 in the second half.
Florida opened and closed the first half with huge runs. The Gators scored 14 of the game’s first 18 points, building a 10-point lead and looking like they would run the Rebels off the court.
Davis called two timeouts in the first 4-plus minutes of the game, trying everything he could to slow down the Gators. It eventually — albeit briefly — worked.
Ole Miss scored 10 straight points to get back in the game, with Hinson doing most of the heavy lifting. A sophomore who grew up about 100 miles southeast of Gainesville in Deltona, Hinson made two 3-pointers and a driving layup to help close the gap. His jumper midway through the first half gave the Rebels their first and only lead.
Florida went back in front for good on Johnson’s 3-pointer from the corner. That was part of seven consecutive made baskets for the Gators, who put together a 16-3 run to seize control.
White notched his 100th victory at Florida in his fifth season, becoming the program’s fifth coach to reach the mark and the second fastest. White accomplished the feat against his alma mater. Only Billy Donovan reached the 100-win milestone faster.
“I never would have imagined,” White said. “Pretty cool, though. I’ve had obviously really, really good players. Blessed to be at a terrific program. Hopefully we can win some more.”
Ole Miss: The Rebels are 0-3 in SEC play for the first time since 2011. They finished 7-9 that season under former coach Andy Kennedy. These Rebels might not be so fortunate, especially with an upcoming stretch that includes two games against LSU, one against Auburn and road tests against Tennessee and Georgia.
Florida: The Gators once again looked like thought they would before the season. They’ve been up and down through 16 games, but clearly have the talent and depth to make an NCAA Tournament run.
Ole Miss: Hosts LSU on Saturday. It will be the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The Tigers have won five of six in the series.
Florida: Hosts No. 4 Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers have won two straight in the series after dropping 21 of 22.
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