GAINESVILLE — In the battle between the SEC's top teams, No. 16 Ole Miss played No. 4 Florida tougher than any other league team has this season.
But in the end, Florida battled its way to a 78-64 victory over the Rebels in front of 12,522 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday night. It was the Gators' 10th consecutive win.
Florida's defense held Ole Miss, which entered the game ranked No. 5 nationally in scoring, well below its season average (80.3), though it marked just the fifth time an opponent has scored 60 or more against the Gators this season.
Florida won its first seven conference games by an average of 28.3 points. Its tightest SEC win had been by 17 at Georgia.
"I thought it was a good game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It was one of those games where it never really got going up and down the floor like I wanted to or as much as I would have wanted to. … We did a really good job passing and sharing the ball."
The Gators (18-2, 8-0 SEC) shot 51.6 percent from the field and held the Rebels to 38 percent shooting. Ole Miss closed out the first half with a 12-5 run, and the Gators took a 40-27 lead into halftime. Forward Murphy Holloway hit eight consecutive points in a 13-3 run to pull the Rebels within 63-50 with 7:12 remaining, but they didn't get any closer.
"This is my seventh Florida team to play, one of those was the national championship team," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I don't even remember a Florida team guarding with that intensity."
Florida senior forward Erik Murphy had a team-high 19 points and six rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. The Gators made 11 of 29 3-pointers overall.
Marshall Henderson, the Ole Miss junior guard who leads the SEC in scoring with 19.3 points and ranks third in the nation with 3.8 3-pointers per game, scored a game-high 25 (the most against the Gators by an individual this season) and made 7 of 11 3-pointers despite having 14-minute scoreless stretches in both halves. Only one other Ole Miss player, Holloway (15 points), was in double figures.
"I talked to (Henderson) after the game and I told him good game," said junior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had 13 points and seven assists with the primary assignment of guarding Henderson. "I told him I did my best on him and he still got 25 points. I gave him the respect he deserved."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.