OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi's old nemesis — a wayward shooting touch — ended what started as a promising upset bid.
The Rebels squandered a 16-point lead in the first half before losing 64-60 to No. 14 Florida on Thursday night.
Terrance Henry had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Mississippi (13-7, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), while Nick Williams added 14 points. The Rebels shot 60.9 percent from the field in the first half and made all six of their 3-point attempts.
They couldn't duplicate that success in the second half, making just 8 of 29 (27.6 percent) from the field.
"You're not going to win many games shooting 27 percent in your own building," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "Our inability to make a play to stop the bleeding put us in a tough spot."
The Gators clawed back from the first-half deficit to win for the sixth time in seven games. Patric Young scored 15 points and Kenny Boynton added 12.
"The best thing for us was we never panicked," Boynton said. "We were playing defense but they hit shots. They hit tough shots and were just killing it. In the second half we guarded the 3-point line a little better, but really, it was just kind of the law of averages."
Boynton admitted keeping cool was tough when Ole Miss was draining 3-pointers in the first half in front of a raucous crowd at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The Rebels' dead-eye shooting was a shock considering they came into the game as the worst 3-point shooting team in the SEC, making just 27.2 percent.
Florida (16-4, 4-1) fell behind 20-4 in the opening minutes and trailed 38-28 at halftime. But the Gators worked their way back thanks to lockdown defense and clutch 3-pointers from Boynton and Mike Rosario.
Young was 7 of 10 from the field off the bench despite playing with tendinitis in his right ankle. Erving Walker had 10 points and nine assists.
"I thought that our guys stayed the course," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I never thought they got rattled or overwhelmed."
Ole Miss got the pace it wanted from the very beginning, forcing Florida into a half-court, physical game. That negated the Gators' one major strength — superior guard play — and they struggled to find open 3-point looks for much of the game.
The Rebels went on a 14-0 run to take a 20-4 lead in the first 8 minutes before settling for the 10-point halftime lead. Williams made four of the team's six first-half 3-pointers, knocking the Gators on their heels.
"Williams was incredible," Boynton said. "But we knew they had to miss at some point."
Florida slowly climbed back into the game in the second half behind Young and some well-timed 3-pointers, including Scottie Wilbekin's with 10:11 remaining that tied the game at 46. Young's dunk gave the Gators a 48-46 lead — their first since the opening minutes.
While Florida was heating up, shooting 52 percent in the second half, the Ole Miss offense was grinding to a halt and the 3-point shooting reverted to previous form. The Rebels scored only eight points in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
"We missed some easy layups," Henry said. "Some bunnies."
Rosario put the Gators ahead for good with 5:29 remaining, draining a 3-pointer for a 53-52 lead. Boynton gave Florida some separation minutes later, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead to 59-54.
Ole Miss pulled within 63-60 with 18 seconds remaining and had a chance to tie. But Florida's defense slapped the ball away from Marcus Aniefiok, who was trying to find room to take a 3-pointer, and Bradley Beal hit a free throw that sealed the victory.
The Gators won despite being outrebounded 41-23.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandtAP