Ole Miss junior forward Bruce Stevens received a pass in the paint with under two minutes remaining in the game.
Only Florida center Kevarrius Hayes stood in his way. Stevens turned his shoulder and barreled into Hayes, forcing him to the ground before lightly converting a layup to give the Rebels a 74-70 lead.
A career-high 23 points from UF forward Keith Stone wasn’t enough for the Gators (12-5, 4-1 SEC) in a 78-72 road loss to the Rebels (10-7, 3-2 SEC) at The Pavilion in Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday.
“I thought both teams battled,” coach Mike White said. “Ole Miss battled a little bit harder.”
The defeat snapped a six-game winning streak for Florida and marked its first SEC loss on the year.
The Gators jumped out to a 17-10 lead nearly eight minutes into the first half, distributing the ball effectively and finding open passing lanes. On Florida’s first six field goals, it registered four assists.
With strong defensive intensity, UF made the Rebels uncomfortable shooting the ball. Ole Miss went just 10-for-33 from the field in the first half, but managed to keep itself within striking distance after making 9-of-10 attempts from the free-throw line in the opening 20 minutes.
Stone and guards Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov paced Florida’s offense in the first half. All three players scored six first-half points, with Koulechov and Stone hitting on three of UF’s five first-half three-pointers.
Still, the Rebels kept themselves afloat. Trailing 28-27 with 2:09 to go in the half, Ole Miss senior guard Markel Crawford nailed two jumpers to give his team a three-point lead.
Crawford poured in 17 points for Ole Miss, which also received a team-high 22 from Stevens and 20 points from senior guard Deandre Burnett.
“Bruce Stevens was terrific,” White said. “(Markel) Crawford was really good, (Deandre) Burnett was really good as he is pretty consistently...I thought that they were the better team today.”
In the final seconds of play in the first half, Koulechov missed a three-pointer on the left wing, which bounced off the rim and into the awaiting hands of teammate KeVaughn Allen.
Allen stepped back beyond the arc, put up an attempt and hit it as time expired to tie the score at halftime, 31-31.
Foul trouble forced the Gators to play small early in the second half, as starting center Kevarrius Hayes picked up his third foul with 17:27 left.
“You can’t foul Ole Miss that many times,” White said. “They’ve always had teams that understand how to get to the foul line and they always convert at a high level.”
Backup center Gorjok Gak left the game after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in the first half and didn’t return.
The Gators’ problems without their big men on the floor were evident, as Ole Miss shot 30.3 percent in the first half but had boosted that percentage up to 43.1 when the final buzzer sounded.
Stone kept the Gators afloat offensively, mostly with free throws, where he shot a career-high 18 attempts.
Apart from Stone, however, other scorers struggled to get going. The only other Florida players to reach double figures were Koulechov and Hudson, who each had 11.
Down the stretch, Florida’s offense went ice cold. Over the last seven minutes, UF managed just two field goals.
“We had a few go about half down for us,” White said. “It was just one of those days.”
Knotted up at 64 with 6:17 left, Ole Miss used free throws to spark a 5-1 run and take a 70-65 lead.
Florida failed to get within one past that point, and Ole Miss snapped a three-game losing streak against the Gators dating back to Florida coach Mike White’s first season at the helm in 2015-16.
“We’ve gotta bring that edge,” White said. “And not that we were flat...but almost like more edge than we did.”