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Florida Gators hit their free throws to beat Mississippi in key SEC road win

Vernon Macklin, looking for an open man as he is double-teamed in the first half, had a career-high 22 points.

Associated Press

Vernon Macklin, looking for an open man as he is double-teamed in the first half, had a career-high 22 points.

OXFORD, Miss. — In a battle of teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble, Florida made a statement.

Vernon Macklin had a career-high 22 points and Erving Walker sank six consecutive free throws in the final 41 seconds as the Gators defeated Mississippi 64-61 on Saturday.

Chandler Parsons had 13 points and Walker 10 for Florida (19-8, 8-4 SEC), which enhanced its resume by finishing 6-0 against West Division teams. The Gators have won four of their past six and improved to 5-1 in games decided by five points or fewer.

"Any league win is important, regardless," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team was a season-best 25-of-27 from the free-throw line. "What's impressive … is you need to take care of the things you have control over, and we did that."

Terrance Henry led Ole Miss (17-9, 5-7) with 17 points, and Chris Warren had 14 points. The Rebels, who were ranked No. 14 in January, have lost five of six.

Ole Miss led 56-54 with 2:24 left on Terrico White's 3-pointer but managed only one basket the rest of the way. Florida tied it on Parsons' two free throws.

Florida took a 58-56 lead with 58 seconds left on Kenny Boynton's layup after a steal by Alex Tyus. Walker's clutch free-throw shooting closed it out.

"You've got to give Walker a lot of credit in the final minute," Donovan said. "We made the free throws, and that was the big factor."

The Gators' shooting from the line has improved markedly of late. After going 12-of-23 in a 76-64 loss to Xavier on Feb. 13, Florida was 32-of-40 in Thursday's 78-70 win over Auburn.

Macklin said that's by design.

"We've been working on free throws" in practice, he said. "I was 0-for-5 against Xavier myself, but the last two games, we've just made sure we focused and made the shots. This one is big. All road wins are big."

White missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Florida shot 37 percent from the floor (19-of-52) and 1-of-13 from 3-point range but forced 15 turnovers and outrebounded the Rebels 36-30.

"It goes back to our focus or our lack thereof," Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. "I think that's been the downfall of our team."

Florida 64

Ole Miss 61

Florida Gators hit their free throws to beat Mississippi in key SEC road win 02/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 20, 2010 10:59pm]
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