This time around it was #15 Florida handing the host Bulldogs another close defeat, 57-52 in Humphrey Coliseum.
“It’s tough to be right there,” Coach Ben Howland said. “We just need a little more to get over the hump.” A hump State (14-12, 5-9 SEC) keeps slipping down the wrong side of, with four-straight losses now and eight in the last ten.
The Gators left 21-5, 12-2 SEC with an eighth-straight victory. If for much of the afternoon this did not look like a top-15 team, it wasn’t after a couple of major injury losses. This was a team able to withstand a sluggish start and the most aggressive defense Mississippi State has played in weeks.
“We’ve been able to find different ways to win different games and it’s been different guys,” Florida Coach Mike White. “Today is just another example. It’s been a tough week for us and we overcame those emotions.”
Emotions nor attitudes were a Bulldog issue. State played hard, played faster with a revised two-point guard lineup, and often showed more energy than the visitors. Which, to Howland, only made things more frustrating.
The defense was good enough,” Howland said of holding Florida to 39% shooting and forcing more turnovers. “It’s just unfortunate our offense, 8.7% from the three.”
Unfortunate wasn’t the word for it. Infuriating fit better. Mississippi State was miserable from either arc, 0-of-13 in the first half and 2-of-23 for the game. Worse, not until the closing stretch were many of those bad looks and guarded attempts. Howland had no complaints about most of the shot selected.
“They just weren’t falling,” said guard Quinndary Weatherspoon after a 1-of-8 day on longballs and 8-of-20 overall. “We got a bunch of good looks the first half, we just couldn’t hit them.”
The net-result, or maybe un-netted-result, was 36% overall accuracy by the home team.
“Our defense came on the road today,” Gator guard Chris Chiozza said. Which was sort-of correct. Florida was usually able to pick up Bulldog inside attempts, blocking six shots and influencing enough others. State still was good on 20 of 38 two-point attempts benefitting from several scramble plays and second-chances.
The Gators didn’t defend the arc too much. They didn’t have to. “Wide-open, real good shots,” Howland said. “That’s a killer. Our defense was good enough today.”
Good enough to aggravate the Gators and crawl out to a 13-7 lead at 12:38. Once in rhythm Florida reeled off seven fast points but it was still a 19-19 tie before all the outside misses caught up with State. Florida went in front 32-24 at halftime and led as much as a dozen twice in the last half.
It wasn’t the two made treys, by Weatherspoon and guard Lamar Peters, that got the Dogs back in contention. State put together a few more good defensive series, Florida pushed their pace too much, and it allowed a 10-2 surge.
When forward Aric Holman got a clean dunk at 2:24 it was a tied game, 52-52. On the other end forward Mario Kegler blocked Gator Kasey Hill, putting the game up for grabs.
UF’s Kevarrius Hayes grabbed, rebounding and scoring for a regained lead his team wouldn’t lose. “That’s a tough 50/50 at home we’re able to pounce,” Howland said.
“We didn’t see it and they ended up scoring,” Weatherspoon said. “If we had got that rebound at that time, I think we would have pulled it out.”
There were two good chances to do it still. State wasted both, dribbling around the perimeter too long until forcing something. At 1:26 it was a crowded three with the clock expiring by Weatherspoon. Florida settled for a long shot of their own which missed at 0:58.
Point guard IJ Ready dribbled, and dribbled, and dribbled before driving the left-side lane. He had no chance. Hayes blocked the shot off his hand and Justin Leon made it a 55-52 margin with one free throw at 0:28.
Weatherspoon’s last long try was rushed, and wide. For the second of three trips Florida only made one foul shot but that was just enough to build the margin out to the final five.
Off the bench Chiozza had a Gator-high 14 points while starter KeVaughn Allen added 11. Forwards Devin Robinson and Hayes each got to ten rebounds and combined for all six blocks.
By making seven non-treys, Weatherspoon was able to reach 17 points. Holman was efficient at eight points and seven boards and for a welcome change didn’t foul out. Peters had eight points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Yet, as bad as the shooting stats read, the live long looks were so good as to only baffle the Bulldogs that much more. “If we can hit eight or nine of those we win,” Weatherspoon said. “I think we did a great job defensively, they average 80 and we kept them down to 50-somehting.”
Mississippi State can’t get down themselves. They have drawn one more Tuesday home game, and it’s the rivalry round-two as Ole Miss comes to campus for an 8:00 tipoff.