NASHVILLE -- Two patterns held true to form during Sunday’s SEC tournament championship game: Florida still isn’t very good in close games, and Mississippi plays much better in the second half.
The Gators looked sharp in the first half, building a 12-point lead before falling to the Rebels 66-63 in the title game.
Florida was attempting to win its first SEC tournament since 2007. But the bigger story was Mississippi (26-8) capturing its first title since the 1981 tournament. It was Ole Miss’ second SEC tourney title in school history.
“Congratulations to Ole Miss,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Certainly, I thought it was a tale of two halves for both teams. I thought we played pretty well offensively in the first half and had a 12-point lead.”
Donovan broke down his feelings on the second half.
“I thought two things really, really hurt us in the game, in the second half,” Donovan said. “In the second half is, one, we did not guard very well at all. When you give up 54 percent basically in the second half from a defensive standpoint that erases any kind of lead you have pretty quickly when you end up shooting 29 percent in the second half.”
And now Florida (26-7) must answer questions about its confidence in close games. UF is 0-6 in games decided by single digits.
“It’s got nothing to do with [confidence],” Donovan said. “People are trying to create this drama like our guys have lost confidence. Our guys haven’t lost confidence at all.”
That confidence will get tested quickly for Donovan and the Gators in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Florida is the No. 3 seed in the South Region and will take on Northwestern State of the Southland Conference on Friday in Austin. If Florida wins, its second-round opponent will be the winner of the UCLA-Minnesota game. Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the South Region, and Georgetown is the No. 2 seed.
UF was led Sunday by Mike Rosario, who scored 18 points, including most of the second-half points. But the Gators shot a woeful 29 percent from the field (9 of 31) in the second half.
“I felt that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity in the second half,” Rosario said. “Being up 12 and knowing that team plays very well in the second half, I feel like, as a team, we didn’t respond early in the first four minutes.”
The Gators scored the first four points of the game and held a comfortable lead throughout the first 20 minutes.
Michael Frazier made three consecutive three-pointers to push the Florida lead over 10 points at the 15:21 mark. But it was the only nine points Frazier would score.
UF carried a 38-26 lead into halftime.
But like the other two games Ole Miss played in the SEC tournament, the second half was all Rebels.
Tournament MVP Marshall Henderson gave Mississippi a 48-46 lead with 12:16 to play, knocking down three free throws. The Rebels increased the lead and then held off a late charge from the Gators.