GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Ole Miss threatened to make it a game late in the first half of Florida’s 78-64 win Saturday night at a sold-out O’Connell Center.
As the Gators have done as routinely as pull on their gym shorts of late, they seized control early and built a 20-point lead before halftime. Florida led 35-15 when the Rebels started to chip away.
And to no one’s surprise, it was gunning guard Marshall Henderson, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer, who made it interesting when he nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 10-0 Rebels run.
Immediately after Henderson’s second 3-pointer dropped through the net, Gators coach Billy Donovan called a 30-second timeout and drew up a play to stop the bleeding.
Erik Murphy applied the Band-Aid.
Murphy got open, took a pass from guard Kenny Boynton, and then nailed the third of his season-high five 3-pointers. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy shook his head. On the bench behind him, assistant Sergio Rouco flopped back in his chair as the Gators cooled off Ole Miss’s comeback bid.
The Rebels never got as close as 10 points again as Murphy’s hot shooting night helped offset Henderson’s game-high 25 points and led the No. 4 ranked Gators to their 10th consecutive victory.
Murphy made 7 of 8 shots — including 5 of 6 from downtown — to lead the Gators with 19 points. He also chipped in with six rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
While Henderson’s oversized personality and shooting prowess dominated the pre-game chatter, it was Murphy’s touch from outside that made the biggest difference for the Gators, especially with guards Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin combining to shoot 2 for 14 from beyond the arc.
“It’s pretty impressive that Boynton and Wilbekin go for 2 for 14 and we still shoot 38 percent from the 3-point line,” Donovan said. “If those guys make a few more 3s, we probably would have 90 [points].”
It didn’t matter with Murphy flashing the shooting touch that earns a dressing down from Donovan when he is open and doesn’t take the shot.
Shortly after a complimentary breakdown of Henderson’s game, Gators guard Mike Rosario was asked if Murphy falls into the category of a pure shooter.
“Yes,” Rosario quickly responded. “A lot of teams can’t guard the pick-and-pop. So they try to switch on him, switch pick-and-rolls, and I feel that gives us an advantage. He’s 6-foot-8, 6-9. He can easily go down and go right in the post and we can dribble back to him and give it back to him in the post.
“It puts teams in tough situations. I feel like Murph is really a great shooter.”
Murphy is now shooting 51.2 percent from 3-point range (43 of 84) and has been even better in SEC play, shooting 57.2 percent (24 of 42) during Florida’s 8-0 start in conference play.
“I don’t know [why]. It’s going in,” Murphy said. “I’m just making shots.”
Murphy ignited a 10-0 Gators run early in the second half with another 3-pointer as Florida increased a 50-37 lead to 60-37. Ole Miss never got closer than 13 the rest of the game.
“I wasn’t hitting [my shots] from the outside, but I tried to get my team the ball on other plays,” said Boynton, who finished with a career-high 10 assists. “Murph did a great job knocking down the shots.”
While his torrid touch from outside was what got the crowd excited, Murphy also played stellar defense inside against Ole Miss’ trio of Reginald Buckner, Murphy Holloway and Terry Brutus. The Rebels are one of the league’s most physical teams and Murphy and center Patric Young held their own as Holloway made only 5 of 16 shots.
Thankfully the bruised ribs that hindered Murphy earlier in the season are healed.
“They are physically tough. They battle,” Murphy said. “They are pretty big and strong at all their positions. It definitely was a grind-out type of game. It wasn’t up and down. Then they brought the guy off the bench [Brutus] who is built like a football player.”
Rosario is known for his offense and isn’t afraid to fire away when open. But in his second season with the Gators after transferring from Rutgers, Rosario knows when to pass.
When he sees Murphy alone from behind the 3-point line.
“One thing that coach always tells us is that we have to get the ball to him when he’s wide open,” Rosario said. “We have to get him the ball and that’s our mindset as a team. When we are coming off screens or coming down on transition, Murph is the first guy we’re looking for.”
Murphy turned those passes into assists Saturday night.