NASHVILLE — Once again when adversity hit, Florida didn't respond well.
With a 38-26 halftime lead and an SEC tournament championship on the line, Florida imploded in the second half as Ole Miss rallied, then held on for a 66-63 victory in Sunday's SEC tournament championship in front of 12,138 at Bridgestone Arena.
Trailing by two, UF senior forward Erik Murphy missed a short jumper with eight seconds left.
"We were in a play and I got the ball off the blocks, a spot I like, and just tried to make a good move," Murphy said. "It just didn't fall."
After Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway hit one of two free throws for a three-point lead, the Rebels smartly fouled Scottie Wilbekin, who missed both free throws. UF got the rebound but Kenny Boynton missed a hurried 3-pointer, sending Henderson and the Rebels into celebration.
Ole Miss' only previous SEC title was in 1981. It secured an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament for a team considered on the bubble by some experts heading into Sunday's game.
"It's been a long time since Ole Miss had been on this stage," coach Andy Kennedy said. "Our guys earned the right to be here, and I wanted us to seize it. I really think we played with a sense of urgency that is needed to win championships."
A sense of urgency that the Gators are sorely lacking.
Florida is 0-4 in games decided by five points or fewer.
"I agree, it's got to stop," Boynton said. "I think as a team, we know our season will be over now. So the problem has to be fixed because it's one-and-done. We definitely have got to fix the problem now. Every team is going to get their run, and if they do get their run, being able to fight back."
Florida shot 46.4 percent from the field and 7-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Ole Miss was 2-of-9 from 3-point range and Henderson, the Rebels' star guard, had just three points.
But in the second half, he took over, eventually scoring 21 points and earning MVP honors. Henderson hit six free throws on two fouls on Wilbekin that helped spur a 22-8 second-half run and the Rebels' first lead. Florida shot 29 percent in the second half and made 1 of 7 free throws in the final 4:56.
"Certainly I thought it was a tale of two halves for both teams," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought two things really, really hurt us in the game. In the second half, one we did not guard very well at all. When you give up 54 percent basically in the second half, that erases any kind of lead you have pretty quickly when you end up shooting 29 percent in the second half."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]