(Before I can actually begin the recap, I have to do a bit of gloating, because I was one of those Florida fans who was particularly irked by this bit of taunting by Marshall Henderson in last year’s SEC Championship Game.)
Chomp on this, Rebels.
Eleven months after Marshall Henderson’s Gator Chomp highlighted a Mississippi comeback in last year’s SEC Championship, Scottie Wilbekin left Rebels fans with a new image of somebody in this evolving rivalry Gator Chomping. Unfortunately for the Red clad Rebels, Wilbekin plays for Florida, and his Gator Chomp came after the Gators came to their floor and walked away with a victory. Even worse for Mississippi, Wilbekin’s Gator Chomp was a painful reminder of the fact that their NCAA Tournament hopes are dwindling faster than the number of people outside of Mississippi who actually approve of the state using the stars and bars- the Confederate flag- as part of their state flag.
And of course, being me, I was thrilled to the stars with it:
SCOTTIE WILBEKIN JUST DID THE GATOR CHOMP AT THE OLE MISS CROWD OH I LOVE YOU SCOTTIE IM LITERALLY CRYING TEARS OF JOY!
— #InAllKindsOfWeather (@AllKindsWeather) February 22, 2014
There were more tweets like that throughout the course of the game, but that was the one that best describes the euphoria of the moment. Follow our twitter handle and scroll through our tweets if you want to relive it all (because I’m not going to embed all our tweets here).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way… ahhh, OK, one last item of taunting, promise.
There it is, in all its glory: THE GATOR CHOMP.
OK, now that we’ve ACTUALLY gotten all that out of our systems, let’s talk some basketball.
I’ve never been so glad to be wrong, but let’s face it, the circumstances were so similar. I swear, I really thought Florida would choke again. They held a 34-24 lead late in the first half, only to watch the Rebels on a 9-0 run that took the momentum away from Florida in the snap of a finger. So I thought, “here we go again. Just like last year.”
Instead of folding, the Gators hung around, and responded each time Mississippi made a real threat to pull away. The Rebels never led by more than 3, which they did with under 15 minutes to go at 51-48- and that’s when Florida exploded with a series of small but effective body blows that slowly put the Rebels down.
First came a quick 6-0 spurt (Michael Frazier and Wilbekin each hit a three) to put Florida up 54-51. The teams went back and forth for awhile afterwards, and they found themselves tied at 59. Then came a 7-0 run in which Patric Young got a dunk, Casey Prather hit a layup, Will Yeguette split a pair of free throws and Patric Young made two more free throws, and saw Florida take a 66-59 lead.
Then came the knockout punch.
The phrase MF II IV A MF III has become quite popular on twitter (I was one of the pioneers of it, but not the only one, as Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army deserves come credit for that too). Basically, what it means is this: Michael Frazier the second for a mother f*cking three (I try to avoid the “F” word as much as possible, but this particular case is worth using it). Get it? Well, whether you do or not (and hopefully you do) that’s what happened, and that’s what ultimately knocked the Rebels out of it at 71-63 with 3 minutes to go, because from that point on, the two teams traded buckets- a good trade for Florida, up eight, but not a good trade for Mississippi, the team down eight.
All things considered, it was quite an entertaining game, because Florida played quite well for the most part, but again, there were some problems. I’ll get to those first because there were so few of them, and then do some bragging about these guys after that, because God knows I need to. But amidst the ecstasy of the huge revenge victory, there were two small areas of concern.
First, I was upset (but not shocked) by the amount of open looks Florida gave Mississippi from outside. If Marshall Henderson wants to take some shots from the Ole Miss script logo at midcourt, that’s fine; if he hits them then so be it, because that’s not bad defense by Florida, but rather either amazing shooting or amazing luck. Take your pick. But I will not stand for leaving Jarvis Summers or Henderson open (meaning 2+ feet of space between the hands of the shooter and the defender when the shot is released) again… and again… and again.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this as a problem, either. Florida gave Auburn’s shooters way too much space to fire away from deep on Wednesday, making this the second straight game this has been a real issue. And it’s arguably been a problem for even longer than that; our Joey Vizzi pointed this out in a tweet during the game. But as I responded to him, (he’s not incorrect) criticizing it before was nitpicking; now it’s an absolute necessity. Florida has now been repeatedly burned from outside in consecutive games, and though they’ve survived both of them, they’re guaranteed to face better shooting teams than Auburn and Ole Miss down the road. Luckily, Henderson and Summers went cold in the second half. But against a team with more than just two legitimate scorers, the Gators could be in trouble.
The second thing kind of is nitpicky, but it deserves a mention. I love Scottie Wilbekin as both a player and an off the court personality (chomp chomp, Ole Miss), but man oh man, did he take some shots he probably shouldn’t have. He finished with 18 points, but that’s due in part to hitting on some looooooong threes. Some of them he had to take, but others… well, I’ve gotten on him before for freelancing a bit, scrapping the offense in favor of playing some street ball, and this falls right into that category. There were times that he just hoisted up threes that had no business being hoisted. You know, without looking to pass or feed the post man. But since he hit enough of them to win the game, I’ll take it in stride.
Onto the positives, and boy are there a lot of ’em.
Let’s start with Florida’s free throw shooting. For the second straight game, Florida easily eclipsed the 70% bar I set early in the season. Against Auburn, Florida went 82.8%; against Ole Miss, that number dropped ever so slightly to 78.9%, which is still very good considering the fact that this team has a history of choking from the foul line. In particular, Patric Young hit four key ones late; if he misses those like I believe he would have a year ago, the game goes into overtime. But he made all four, which put Florida up 68-61 with under four minutes to play and essentially ended the game; Ole Miss never got closer than four the rest of the way, and only got that close with two seconds to go- too late.
Next, I’ll touch on DeVon Walker’s presence. I’m not sure many college basketball fans outside of Gainesville know him, but he changed that by nailing two threes in the first eight minutes. Other than a stray free throw, those were the only points he’d get- but he made his point with Billy Donovan. Now he’s got to be looked at as another guy that can get hot and start getting you points in three point increments. Maybe he’s not your first option, but he is an option, and on a team with decidedly fewer of these options than they had a year ago, I think Donovan will take any and all such options he can get.
Another thing to be proud of is the fact that Florida, despite being known as a defense first team this year, can in fact win some games on the other end of the floor. They’ve only won two games with offense all year (Memphis at MSG, Alabama in Gainesville) but it was clear early on that they would lose today unless they got productive offense from several sources. And boy, did they; two starters (Wilbekin and Michael Frazier) with a combined 35, Patric Young chipped in 12, and three other players (DeVon Walker, Will Yeguette and Casey Prather) with 7.
Finally, as everybody has been saying all year, this Gators team is as clutch as it gets. Time and again this year, I thought Florida would lose games they shouldn’t because the ghosts of chokes of years past were still clear in my head. But since this team first got to full strength, they have not lost a game, period, and… just wow. I’m still stunned by the incredible 180 degree transformation this team has undergone from being a sure bet to lose a close game to being a sure bet to win one; in fact, I’m more and more stunned each time it happens, and I’m not sure why. Probably because those awful memories (Butler, Louisville, Arizona, Kentucky last year, Mississippi in the SEC Championship Game, etc.) are still engrained in my head. But they’re fading fast, because each time Florida wins, a new memory pushes them all further back.
Of course, they’re going to need to keep all of this up in order to cut down some nets, and I think they can. Put it this way: if Florida doesn’t win the national championship this year with all the experience they’ve got in tough games, you can’t be convinced of anything you’ll ever read on the internet again.