The Gators (21-8, 8-6 SEC) shot 36.1 percent and made just 7-of-25 shots from behind the arc. The also turned the ball over 10 times and had seven shots rejected as Mississippi State (20-8, 11-3) comfortably held of the Gators and retained their lead in the SEC West.
For Florida, Marreese Speights had a huge game, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to hold of the Bulldogs' athletic frontcourt.
"It's not a good game if we lost," Speights said. "Sometimes we just didn't go up strong. Varnado's a good shot blocker, but he didn't intimidate anyone. We just didn't get it done."
"We made a couple of mistakes," Calathes said. "We didn't pump fake and they go for the fake all the time. It was just the little things like that."
The combination of Charles Rhodes, Jamont Gordon, and Jeff Varnado combined for 30 points and 24 rebounds not to mention Varnado's seven blocked shots.
"They played a great game and did what they've been doing well for the last 13 games and that's blocking shots and rebounding," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought we played right into their hands. We took quick shots in transition. They play 6-7 guys and we didn't create any level of fatigue. We allowed Varnado to do what he does great and we allowed Rhodes to do what he does great and we allowed Hansbrough to do what he does great because we don't understand shot selection."
It didn't take long for the Bulldogs to take advantage of Florida's early shooting woes. Mississippi State jumped out to an early ten-point lead, 14-4, quickly after a Jai Lucas jumper put Florida ahead 4-3. The frontline of MSU was too much to handle for Florida in the first half.
"There are things we needed to do and they had to be licking their chops the way we were playing," Donovan said. "They played great, but we allowed them to play great. We allowed Varnado to look like one of the best shot blockers in the nation. We allowed Hansbrough to look like one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation."
The Gators fought back after knocking down a couple of 3s. When Calathes hit from long range at the midpoint of the first half, Florida pulled to within five, 19-14. But Mississippi State extended their lead by dominating the glass and continued poor shooting by the Gators. Florida made just 34.5 percent of their first half shots and was outrebounded 21-17.
With 2:47 remaining in the first half, Gordon stole a pass and completed the play with a dunk, giving the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the half, 34-21. Calathes answered with a 3-pointer, but Barry Stewart's 3 gave the Dogs a 12-point halftime lead, 39-27
The Gators opened the second half with more energy on both defense and in their frontcourt. Speights scored the first two buckets of the half and another Calathes 3 cut MSU's lead to 41-34 with 15:12 left. A nice dish from Speights to Calathes narrowed the deficit to five, 41-36, with 14:00 left.
It wasn't until the 12:55 mark of the second half that Mississippi State hit its first field goal and from there, MSU went on a run stretching the lead back to 13 points, 52-39. A 3-point basket by Parsons and some free throws inched Florida closer. And after Calathes hit the front end of a one-on-one with 3:57 left, MSU led by only six, 56-50. But a big 3-pointer from Ben Hansbrough put the Bulldogs up by nine, 61-52 with 2:30 left.
"We're not that great of a defensive team," Calathes said. "We didn't go to our strengths and we went to their strengths instead. We had our chances, but we missed shots and didn't execute. They came up with some big time plays and hit the big shot at the end."
In the closing minutes, the Gators couldn't get a shot to drop when it mattered most. Florida missed six consecutive shots during a two minutes stretch allowing MSU to stretch the lead to double digits and eventually walk out with the victory.
"I don't think we came into that game and gave a bad effort," Donovan said. "We just didn't do what we needed to do to win the game."
The Gators will likely need to win one of their last two games to secure an NCAA berth, but things don't get any easier when they host No. 1 Tennessee in the O'Dome on Wednesday night. The Vols have won five of their last six meetings against the Gators, including a 22-point win against Florida last month in Knoxville.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski
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