Gators Fall in Starkville

Down by nine at the half and faced with probable elimination from the NCAA tournament outside an SEC Tournament championship, the Florida Gators couldn't get it going in the second half as Mississippi State handed them their seventh SEC loss of the season 80-71. Again, it was the defensive side of the ball that the Gators struggled as they saw another team torch them from the three-point line.

The Gators have been out-manned throughout the conference season and have had to rely on mainly eight players to play most of the minutes in competition. That didn't change Wednesday as Florida (21-9, 8-7) had eight players log double digit minutes on the floor and a ninth Allan Chaney log just three minutes in the contest.

Florida again struggled defending the three-point line as their zone collapsed on Bulldog big man Jarvis Vernado. The Bulldogs took advantage going 10-of-20 from the three-point line as they passed around the zone to wide open shooters. Donovan talked after the game about the defense and the vulnerability his team has when trying to defend both aspects of the Gators' opponents.

"We just got exposed where they had four shooters form the three point line and Vernado inside and the floor was spaced," Donovan said in his post game show on the Gator Radio Network.

It was a rough game with bloodied lips, dislocated fingers, badly sprained or broken ankles, cuts on foreheads and the Gators needed more than the usual rotation of eight players to step up. It just didn't happen, but certainly not because the Gators lone senior didn't want it to.

Florida senior guard Walter Hodge scored a game high 20 points and played through a dislocated finger suffered at the end of the first half. Hodge was certainly pushing his teammates to succeed, so much so that Donovan reflected a moment after the game about his lone senior.

"I saw something that I haven't seen since I've been coaching," Donovan said continuing his interview on the Gator Network. "Walter Hodge broke down emotionally on the bench and was crying because he wants to win so bad. He is trying to inspire and lead the guys. He was talking and got so emotional. It's a great thing and I am going to miss him because the name across the front his jersey has meant more to him and it has always meant something to him to play at Florida and with the teammates he has played with. Tonight he stepped up big and dislocated his finger. It will be a sad day for me Saturday knowing that it will be the last time I will be coaching him in the O'Dome."

Hodge led a quartet of double digit scorers as Alex Tyus poured in 16, Dan Werner 10, and Nick Calathes 11. Calathes, the usual star of the show, struggled Wednesday. His struggles finally got to Donovan who pulled his starting point guard from the game with just under three minutes left in the game when he took an errant three point shot that wasn't in the framework of the offense.

"I think some of our early threes led to the floor being unbalanced," Donovan said. "I thought we had some pretty good looks. We didn't shoot the ball great from the three point line.

Calathes who has been ill with flu like symptoms for most of the last two weeks, struggled on the night and Donovan saw enough to pull him out at the end with the game somewhat on the line.

"I think it's been the last few games for Nick...I know he wasn't feeling well and had the flu," Donovan said. "He always scraps and fights. He just needs to understand how to incorporate the guys on the the team a little bit more. He wants to win so bad, but just tries to take it all on him self. You admire that about Nick that he wants to do it, but he has to understand that with the other four guys out there and his vision and his sight, he can make the game so much easier for the other guys."

Tyus had a strong game with his 16 points, seven rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes and another positive on the night was the play of freshman wing Ray Shipman. More than anything Shipman's 24 minutes were needed for this team that must be tired going down the stretch. He logged 24 minutes despite having to leave the floor for some time due to a bloody lip. Shipman finished with five points, two rebounds and a steal, but offered up excellent defense most of the time he was in there.

"Shipman has been doing a good job," Donovan said. "He's had a couple of games where he has given a nice burst been coming off the bench. I think he is starting to see the value that he can play defense and do other things. I think he is starting to see with his athletic ability, he can defend, go to the offensive glass, and finish."

The Bulldogs were led by Ravern Johnson who went 4-of-7 from the three-point line and finished with 15 points. Vernado added his 13 and eight rebounds while Barry Stewart threw in 12 points and six rebounds. It was the balanced scoring that did the Gators in as the Bulldogs had eight players score five points or more and five scored at least nine.

The Gators play at home Saturday against Kentucky at 2 p.m. It is Senior Night and the regular season finale for Walter Hodge who will leave as the Gator player with the most wins in the history of the program. Kentucky lost at home Wednesday to Georgia.

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