OXFORD — The second season, proclaimed by Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis as the month of February, has been a rousing success after two games.
Breein Tyree scored 23 points as the Rebels won successive Southeastern Conference games for the first time this season with a 68-51 win over Florida Saturday, snapping a two-game winning streak by the Gators.
“We’ve totally shifted our focus to February, and our players have bought into that,” Davis said. “We never felt like we were not a good team; it just did not show on our record. We kept working, and now we’ve built confidence with a couple of wins.”
Devontae Shuler and KJ Buffen scored 14 points apiece as Ole Miss (12-11, 3-7 SEC) never trailed after the opening two minutes.
Buffen had a team-high nine rebounds, while Shuler added a game-high five assists.
Florida (14-9, 6-4 SEC) was led by Keyontae Johnson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. with 16 and 11 points, respectively. The Gators trailed 21-8 after nine minutes, 33-27 at halftime and did not cut the margin to single digits in the final 10 minutes.
“It’s unfortunate we’re a team that puts ourselves in that position,” Florida coach Mike White said. “When you make these comebacks, you feel great about the results but not great about the whole 40 minutes. Tonight our goal was to play the whole 40 and it would’ve taken that to win. We played well for about 25.”
Ole Miss shot 26 of 55 (47.3 percent), 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range, including four by Tyree. Florida struggled offensively with 15 turnovers and shot 18 of 54 (33.3 percent) from the field and 5 of 23 (21 percent) from beyond the arc. The Rebels outscored Florida 16-7 off the turnovers.
Florida: The Gators have won twice in SEC play by wiping out deficits of 20 points or more, but could not erase the 13-point deficit established in the opening nine minutes. It was an unhappy homecoming for White, a former Ole Miss captain and four-year starter at point guard, who led the Rebels to a pair of SEC West Division titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
“They defended better than us. They rebounded better than us. They coached better than us,” White said. “We’ve got to ask ourselves as a team why are we down 22? Why are we down like we were today? They played better than us.”
Ole Miss: After a frustrating January of near misses, the Rebels won consecutive SEC games after losing eight of the previous nine games. Tyree is arguably the league’s best offensive performer, but lately he has gotten help from an improved defense and scoring help from Shuler and Buffen, especially during a decisive 13-3 run that built an insurmountable 48-36 lead with 12:19 left.
“We defended today for 40 minutes; the best we’ve defended all year long,” Davis said. “We’re going to need that again because we are playing a really outstanding Mississippi State team in here on Tuesday night.”
Florida: Visits Texas A&M on Wednesday.
Ole Miss: Hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday to complete a three-game home stand.
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