Mississippi Rebels guard Marshall Henderson (22) and forward Murphy Holloway (31) celebrate after the Rebels beat the Gators for the SEC title Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., 66-63.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ole Miss senior forward Murphy Holloway has basically been a 50 percent free-throw shooter his entire career.
So he knew exactly what to expect when he toed the line for the two foul shots with 8.6 seconds left in Sunday’s SEC Tournament final against Florida that could clinch the Rebels’ first league tournament title since 1981 and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001.
“I was like, ‘Man, just make one just in case they hit a 3 and we can go to overtime,’ ” said Holloway, who made the first of the two free throws.
No overtime was required.
After two missed Florida free throws — the second intentionally — Gators guard Kenny Boynton’s game-tying 3 bounced off the front rim with two seconds left to preserve a 66-63 Ole Miss victory.
It was the third straight comeback win in as many days for the Rebels (26-8), who took themselves off the NCAA tourney bubble by getting the automatic bid.
Ole Miss battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat the Gators. The Rebels beat Vanderbilt in the semis on Saturday after trailing by nine and they won on a last-second shot over Missouri in Friday’s quarterfinals, digging out of a 10-point hole with nine minutes left.
In fact, Ole Miss led for a collective 3:12 in the first halves in the entire tournament. And it still won it all despite losing starting point guard Jarvis Williams the last two games after he suffered a concussion against Missouri.
The collective effort of Holloway and Reginald Buckner controlling the inside, tournament MVP Marshall Henderson (who scored 21 points) nailing big 3s and Snoop White stepping in at the point ensured that the Rebels would be a participant in the NCAA Tournament.
“The Marshall Henderson Show is like a traveling circus,” said Ole Miss’s Andy Kennedy, finally in the tournament in his seventh year as Rebs head coach. “It’s up and down. We got a high-wire high act over here, the ponies here, all kinds of nonsense going on. But the dirty work, the grind, is being done by the seniors (Holloway and Buckner).”
Holloway scored 12 of his 21 points in the first half, and kept the Rebels from totally disappearing. Buckner had nine of his 11 points in the second half. He had two huge assists in the last eight minutes, including tapping an offensive rebound to Henderson, who swished a 3 for a 59-53 lead with 8:16 left.
“Henderson hit some tough shots, but Murphy Holloway is the player we wanted to shut down,” said Boynton, who scored 13 points. “He was a big factor and we didn’t contain him much. It wasn’t our best defensive game.”
Nor was it the Gators’ best offense.
Florida was on fire early, but cooled off and shot 37.3 percent for the game after shooting 29 percent in the second half. In the final five minutes, Florida was 3-for-11 from the field and missed its last six free throws.
“It’s easy to make shots when you’re up by a lot of points,” Henderson said. “But when it’s a close game, your rear tightens up a bit and it’s hard to make shots.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan diagnosed his team’s defensive problem, but his players couldn’t stop the bleeding.
“Our guards were constantly being beat off the dribble,” Donovan said. “It created penetration and allowed those (Ole Miss) guys to make dump-down passes for layups. We didn’t have our built in help like we normally do.”
g NOTES: Henderson became the first tournament MVP from Ole Miss. The all-tourney team was Henderson, Buckner and Holloway from Ole Miss, Boynton and Erik Murphy from Florida. … Ole Miss has won seven of its last eight games. … Florida is now 3-6 in SEC tournament championship games. … Gators’ guard Mike Rosario’s 18 points led Florida in scoring, something he’s done 14 times this year. … Despite Ole Miss starting spring football practice Sunday afternoon, Rebels’ coach Hugh Freeze flew to Nashville for the finals, then flew back to Oxford to catch the last hour of practice.