The Gators wanted to remove any doubt from the game from the beginning. After Georgia took its 11-2 lead on Wednesday, the Gators had to fight back through the first half and went to halftime down three points. A strong second half gave Florida a blowout win, but they had to work from behind to do it.
Saturday was different.
Florida was able to take a big lead early in the game and cruise through it. That doesn't mean they took plays off. There were still down points in their play over the course of 40 minutes, but for a team that was 4-4 under Donovan when playing at Humphrey Coliseum before Saturday, this was unlike any game Florida had played in Starkville. The 35-point loss was the second worst ever at home for the Bulldogs.
The Gators did it by sharing the basketball on offense and sprinkling in their suffocating defense. Florida recorded 23 assists on 31 field goals, led with nine assists by point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who also chipped in with 13 points.
"That was part of our problem in the first half against Georgia—we didn't share the ball like we needed to," Donovan said. "Our guys did a terrific job (tonight). Scottie had nine assists, Yeguete had four assists. We moved, shared the ball and found the open man."
Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy led the Gators with 18 points each and combined 8-for-14 shooting from behind the three-point line. Florida shot 55.4-percent (14-31) from behind the arc. The Gators outrebounded Mississippi State 44-20 with Michael Frazier and Will Yeguete both grabbing eight boards off the bench.
Florida center Patric Young chipped in with 13 points and six rebounds. The junior was slowed early in the game but saw the court well and created open shots for players on the perimeter.
"He did a good job," Donovan said. "He got off to a rough start because they were really stuffing it in on him early. It was hard for him to do much, and he made some great passes to the perimeter. He got some guards shot. Then he exerted himself on the offensive glass and got some put backs and nice post moves. He gave us a great lift of energy.
Young has played with energy recently"They were packing it in and forcing us to shoot the ball over the top."
The big lead also allowed Donovan to rest players. Wilbekin played 32 minutes and was the only Florida player to play more than 28 minutes. Six Florida players were between 21-27 minutes to keep them fresh.
When the game was completely out of reach, the Gators were able to play their four freshmen — Michael Frazier, Dillon Graham, Braxton Ogbueze and DeVon Walker — along with walk-on Jacob Kurtz for the final 3:33 in the game. Donovan was upset about their play to close out the game at Texas A&M, but they learned from it and closed out the game on a 5-3 run.
"Our freshmen came in and played well," Donovan said. "I was happy to see them get in there and do a really nice job getting in there and closing the game out."
The Gators now head back to Gainesville to place at the O'Connell Center, a place that feels unfamiliar after recent weeks. Four of Florida's first six games in conference play were on the road, and it came out with a 6-0 record. Now, the Gators are heading into a stretch with four of the next five games coming at home.
"I wasn't sure if we even had a home court here with as long as we've been gone," Donovan joked. "It seems like we've been on the road for quite a long time. It'll be good to get back. This is hard because we've got six weeks to go with no breaks between.
"Hopefully we can get healthier. We'll have an update on Casey Prather here early in this week coming up. Hopefully we can get to a full roster of players. It's a tough week coming up. It'll be great to be back in the O'Dome."