Keyontae Johnson

Keyontae Johnson

Florida returned to Gainesville wanting to show that giving up 91 points during a 16-point drubbing in its last contest wasn’t going to be the new norm.

It did just that, getting back to its suffocating defense by shutting down a banged-up Ole Miss squad.

Florida held its opponent to 18-of-45 shooting from the floor and 3 of 16 from beyond the arc, winning 71-55 over the Rebels at the O’Connell Center.

The Gators (11-5, 3-1 SEC) came out on Tuesday night with a swagger they severely lacked in their double-digit loss to Missouri last time out.

Florida opened up the game on an 8-0 run and led 17-6 after a three-point play from forward Keyontae Johnson.

That’s when Florida’s energetic start to the game came to a screeching halt.

The Rebels (9-7, 0-3 SEC) -- averaging just 58 points per game during their three-game losing streak -- set the nets ablaze behind a 12-point first half performance from forward Blake Hinson.

Ole Miss erased the double-digit deficit with a 16-2 run and coach Mike White was left scratching his head after the lapses on defense from his team.

But the defensive intensity for Florida turned up significantly after the Ole Miss run. The Gators went on to cause 11 turnovers and limited the Rebels to just eight points during the final nine minutes of first-half play.

“We wanted to come out with more of an edge on the defensive side of the ball,” guard Andrew Nembhard said. “We’ve been slacking these last few games, and I thought we picked it up.”

The team shot 62.1 percent from the field overall and narrowed its turnover margin to five.

The second half carried more of the same for UF: efficiency on offense and solid play on defense.

Through the first 10 minutes of play in the half, the Gators led by double digits and outscored Ole Miss 13-8. They led by as many as 23 points late into the second half.

Defensively, UF terrorized the Rebels in the second half, leading to Mississippi’s 29-percent field goal percentage for the half.

After an atrocious performance in its last game, it was imperative for Florida to improve on defense, and it made huge strides on Tuesday toward becoming a more balanced team on both sides of the court.

“It makes me feel better about our team and our chances moving forward,” White said, referring to the defensive performance. “The way we defended today gives you a chance night in and night out.”

Offensively, UF dominated the interior, outscoring Ole Miss 44-18 in the paint and taking advantage of Rebels 6-foot-10 forward Khadim Sy’s absence (8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game).

Johnson and forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. led the Gators with 15 and 13 points. Nembhard was the third and final Gator in double figures with 10 points and six assists.

This type of defensive showing is one that UF needs to build upon with matchups against No. 4 Auburn and No. 2 Baylor coming later this month.

Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanMPLepak and contact him at [email protected].

Evan Lepak is a Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida, currently covering UF baseball. He's also covered both UF cross country and UF swimming and diving. He has been with the Alligator since Summer 2018.