Florida’s Mike White thrilled with the Pavilion, happy to see alma mater take big step
From Florida head coach Mike White’s perspective, seeing the inside of The Pavilion for the first time was a sign great things are happening at the University of Mississippi.
The atmosphere inside the building was what he had dreamed of before he stepped onto the court, and White had every reason to be proud as he once was a part of a Rebels squad that won two-consecutive Southeastern Conference Western Divisions titles in 1997 and 1998, along with three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 1997-99.
After the Gators’ starting lineup was announced Saturday night, White’s name was called and the 9,333 fans in attendance stood up and cheered for their beloved Rebel, someone who—despite his current position at another university—received the utmost respect from the red and blue clad Ole Miss crowd.
Following his team’s 80-71 win over the Rebels (12-5, 2-3), Coach White described his feelings as “odd,” because he was coaching against his alma mater. But White put that all aside to focus on preparing his Florida team for its first SEC road win on the season.
And it appears he accomplished his goal. The Gators shot 49 percent (24 for 49) from the field after coming in ranked last in the SEC in field goal percentage (.419).
White: “I love this place”
“Oxford and Ole Miss mean a lot to me,” White said following his team’s first road win since its 59-41 win over Navy on Nov. 13.
Florida head coach Mike White
White added, “I’m just really happy for everyone involved with Ole Miss. I’m really happy for all Rebels. I’m thankful that all the Rebel donors have stepped up. This place is beautiful. So, congratulations.”
Gators grab early lead
Florida (11-6, 3-2) jumped out to a 15-2 lead in less than five minutes and continued to out hustle Ole Miss, which didn’t score its first set of points until Sebastian Saiz’s jumper fell through the net at the 17:27 mark of the first half.
The Gators were a plus-10 on the boards (39-29) and scored 18 points off 10 Rebels’ turnovers.
But White’s homecoming success wouldn’t had been possible if it wasn’t for the play of KeVaughn Allen, who had a game-high 27 points on 9 for 11 shooting- 6 of 7 from the 3-point arc- in 35 minutes. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith had 17 points and 10 rebounds. The stellar play of sophomore point guard, Chris Chiozza, helped Florida jump out front and keep a steady lead.
Chiozza had a game-high nine assists and he leads the team with 73 assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio (4.3) is the best in the SEC.
“He’s just making great decisions,” White said about the Memphis, Tennessee native. “He’s kind of fallen into that role where he’s the guy everyone wants the ball in his hands, because you know something positive is going to happen. He’s played with great mental toughness. He doesn’t get rattled.
“I thought Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey and of course Stefan Moody applied a lot of pressure to him when we were playing with a lead. And he just made really good decisions with the basketball. He’s a terrific passer.”
White knew his team had to stop or try to slow down Ole Miss’ leading scorer, Stefan Moody, who is 24 points away from the 1,000-point club. Moody could soon become the 38th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.
Against the Gators, Moody had 22 points, four steals and one assist. He was 6 of 15 from the field.
“He’s got to be the focal point of every scouting report unless you go the other way and we considered to just let him get 50 and face guard everyone else, “ White said. “If anybody does that, I would like to watch that game because he will probably do it.
“Andy has always put guys in position to be successful. He’s always been really good with defining roles offensively, playing to his strengths. And he puts Stef in so many positions to be successful, to put you at a disadvantage defensively. Collectively, I thought we walled him off in transition pretty well, but he’s a phenomenal scorer.”
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.