Led by Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, much of Florida’s success stems from a fluid offense and strong 3-point shooting.
Mississippi can’t say it shares those traits, but is off to a solid start in SEC play thanks to its domination on the boards.
These two teams with vastly different styles meet Thursday night in Oxford, as the 14th-ranked Gators try to beat the Rebels for the 10th time in 11 meetings.
Florida (15-4, 3-1) leads the SEC with 82.2 points per game and ranks first in both 3-point percentage (40.7) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46). Walker, tied for the conference lead with 4.9 assists, directs the offense, while Boynton, second in the league with 18.3 points per game, handles most of the scoring.
Neither had a particularly strong game Saturday against LSU, and the Gators misfired on 14 of 21 tries from beyond the arc, but Billy Donovan’s team won 76-64. Walker had 12 points, three assists and was 1 for 6 from 3-point range, while Boynton had 11 points - his second-lowest output of the season - and missed all four 3-point attempts.
The Gators still had three other players in double figures - Erik Murphy (15), Bradley Beal (11) and Mike Rosario (11) - and shot a season-best 56.3 percent, making 20 of 27 shots (74.1 percent) from inside the arc.
“We struggled from the 3-point line,” Walker said. “We haven’t done that many games, but that’s why we want to focus on defense and other things: to be able to still win when we’re not shooting the 3-ball well.”
Mississippi (13-6, 3-2) is used to that considering it hasn’t had much luck from 3-point range all season.
The Rebels are last in the SEC in 3-point percentage (27.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.69), a product of their relatively weak guard play.
Although Ole Miss has problems in the backcourt, it leads the SEC in both total rebounds (43.6 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-8.2) in conference games. Junior forwards Murphy Holloway (9.6 per game) and Reginald Buckner (8.8) both rank among the league’s top five on the boards.
“It’s what we need. It’s who we are,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said. “The reality is our most veteran group is our frontcourt.”
Ole Miss’ physical frontcourt could pose problems for Florida, which ranks near the bottom of SEC in rebounding (31.3) and rebounding differential (minus-0.5) in league games.
“Right now, we’re going against maybe the best rebounding team in the league, if not one of the best in the country,” Donovan said. “Any time you can rebound the basketball like they do, it eliminates second chances. Across the front line, they’ve got length, size and athleticism.”
In Saturday’s 66-63 win at Georgia, Buckner and Holloway combined for 17 boards, but it was swingman Terrance Henry who led the way. Henry, the Rebels’ leading scorer at 11.5 points per game, had 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting and matched a season high with 10 rebounds.
The Rebels return to Oxford, where they’re 8-0 this season and haven’t lost since Jan. 29, 2011, to play four of their next six games.
The Gators are 1-4 in true road games, but have won three straight over Old Miss and nine of 10 since 2003.
In Florida’s 77-71 home win over the Rebels last January, Walker had a team-high 20 points and Boynton scored 17. Buckner had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Henry added 12 points and eight boards.
The Gators won their most recent trip to Oxford 64-61 two years ago despite shooting 1 for 13 from 3-point range.