Gators Keep Rolling

Chandler Parsons had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds and center Vernon Macklin scored a career-high 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting against 6-9 Jarvis Varnado, the nation's leading shot blocker, as the Florida Gators downed the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs 69-62 before a raucous O'Connell Center crowd of 11,660 Saturday.

The Gators, winners of six of their last seven with the lone defeat a one-point road loss to No. 14 Tennessee last Sunday, improved to 17-6 overall and 6-3 in SEC play with the win, while the Bulldogs, who have lost four of their last five, slipped to 16-7, 4-4.

"It was a hard game," head coach Billy Donovan said, noting the short time since UF's 66-65 road win at Alabama Thursday night. "I thought our guys mentally did about as good as they could do with the short turnaround. I thought offensively Chandler and Vernon really carried us."

Alex Tyus added nine points and eight rebounds, ending a streak of 13 straight double-figure scoring efforts. He connected on just 2-of-10 shots from the field, joining starting guards Erving Walker (2-of-14, 1-of-8 from 3-point range) and Kenny Boynton (2-of-9, 0-for-5) in struggling offensively. But the Gators used the performances of Parsons and Macklin, who were a combined 15-of-22 from the field, and a determined rebounding effort that resulted in a 46-35 Gator advantage on the boards to post the big win, rallying from a 29-27 halftime deficit to outscore the Bulldogs 42-33 after the break.

UF is now 6-0 in the SEC and 12-1 overall when outrebounding its opponents.

"We were really active on the boards," Tyus said. "We realize that we usually win when we outrebound our opponents, so we decided to make that a focus."

The 6-9 Parsons, who tied his season-high for assists (six) as well as rebounds, continually gave the Bulldogs problems by driving the ball hard to the basket, especially in the second half. With Parsons operating the point coming out of halftime, Macklin went on a tear, throwing down 10 straight points to open the second half to give UF a 37-35 lead with 16:05 remaining, Florida's first since a brief 2-0 edge when Boynton scored the game's opening hoop.

"I just wanted to come out with a lot of energy and help my team turn things around because we were flat," Macklin said. "I didn't look at it as a personal challenge. He (Varnado) is very long and he blocks so many shots that you just have to keep the ball away from him."

There were 12 ties and 10 lead changes in the game, the last of which came when Parsons scored following an offensive rebound with 12:27 to play to break a 41-all tie. Later, with UF up 48-45, Parsons hit a short bank shot, made a nice feed to Macklin for a two-handed reverse dunk and then capped the 7-0 run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the Gators opened a 10-point lead, 55-45, with 7:15 left to play.

Four straight points by Varnado cut the lead to six a minute later, but Tyus scored inside and freshman Erik Murphy hit two clutch free throws to build the lead back to 10, 59-49, with 3:51 left. The Bulldogs got as close as 64-59 with 36.8 seconds left on a trey by Johnson, but UF iced it at the foul line as Boynton, Werner and Parsons each connected on both ends of clutch 1-and-1s in the final minute to secure the victory.

Mississippi State, which jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, managed to take the halftime lead thanks to Varnado, who only scored two points in the first 17:30 of the game but scored the last five points of the half for the Bulldogs.

Varnado, who came into the game averaging more than five blocked shots a game, finished with a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds), but recorded only one block against the Gators and was held to 6-of-16 shooting from the field. He came into the game with almost twice as many blocks (115) as the Gators had as a team (63).

Guard Ravern Johnson, who was 8-of-11 from the field, led the Bulldogs with 20 points, tying Macklin for game-high honors, while guard Barry Stewart (12 points) gave MSU three players in double digits.

After shooting just 32.3 percent (10-of-31) in the opening half, the Gators shot a solid 48.4 percent (15-of-31) after intermission to finish 25-of-62 (40.3 percent). They struggled, however, from beyond the arc, connecting on just 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) while the Bulldogs, who came in averaging 24 3-point attempts per contest, were 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from 3-point range.

"I think this was our biggest defensive challenge," Parsons said. "Mississippi State is a great team. They shoot the ball really well and have a real inside presence in Varnado, so I thought our guys really stepped up."

The Gators, who are 2-2 in SEC road games thus far, face a tough one Wednesday when they play South Carolina. The Gamecocks handed Kentucky its only loss of the season in Columbia two weeks ago and lost to UF, 58-56, on a game-winning 3-pointer by Parsons in Gainesville Jan. 23.


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