GAINESVILLE — In the days leading up to Saturday night's game against Ole Miss, Florida senior center Vernon Macklin spent a lot of time hanging out with junior guard Erving Walker. Although Walker needed just 14 points to reach 1,000 for his career, he was much more concerned about how the Gators could earn their first conference win of the season.
"He's a humble kid," Macklin said. "He's just trying to win."
Ultimately, Walker got the victory and the milestone, scoring a team-high 20 points and adding six assists to help Florida (12-3, 1-0 SEC) to a 77-71 win over Mississippi (12-4, 0-1) at the O'Connell Center.
"I really wasn't focused on that," Walker said after the game. "I'm happy about it, but I played a lot of minutes as a freshman, so it came along with the territory. I'm just more proud of the way we played against a good team and we got a big win."
A big win that was earned the hard way. The Gators led 39-28 at halftime after a late scoring frenzy, outscoring Ole Miss 18-7 in the final five minutes of the half.
But at halftime, Florida coach Billy Donovan had a warning for his players. Ole Miss guard Chris Warren, who is the SEC's second-leading scorer, was scoreless. Donovan told his guys that wasn't going to stand and to prepare for a run.
"Everything he said would happen did," Macklin said. "He said Chris Warren hasn't got off in the first half, he's going to go off."
Led by Warren, Ole Miss came out in the second half prepared to rally. The Rebels outscored Florida 23-9 to take a 53-51 lead with 9:51 left. But tied at 61, Walker scored six consecutive points for the Gators to give them a 67-63 lead, and they never trailed again.
"I thought our guys had some resiliency and some resolve as the game's going on, and that's what's going to happen in the SEC," Donovan said. "It's league play right now, everything's a grind, nothing comes easy. … That's what you need to have happen, is guys respond."
Walker wasn't alone in leading the Gators. Three others scored 16 or more, Macklin (16), Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton (17 each). Warren finished with 20 second-half points.
After the game, Donovan said he didn't even mention Walker's accomplishment to the team. That, he said, is for Walker to tell his grandkids. But Donovan didn't skip his praise for Walker.
"One thing I admire about him is he's got a huge heart and great competitiveness," Donovan said. "He doesn't shy away from the competition."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.