Power, Bulldogs Shoot Up Gators At The Hump

Shane Power says he'd do anything to defend the home court. Even if it means putting in lots of private work on that same court.

"I probably spent ten, twelve hours in this gym the last two days," the senior swingman said. "I think some of that hard work paid off tonight."

It did indeed, as Power scored a game-best 18 points in leading Mississippi State to a 71-57 victory over visiting Florida. A home crowd of 8,439 and national TV audience watched the Bulldogs improve to 17-5 overall and 5-3 SEC at the expense of Florida (13-5, 5-2 SEC).

Power, who tied his MSU-career-high output, scored as many points against the Gators as he had in the three previous games combined. He did it on 7-of-15 shooting, with a trio of three-point goals. His outside offense was the perfect complement to the inside tandem of forward Lawrence Roberts and center Marcus Campbell, who each produced 13 points and a matching 11 rebounds.

Power's contributions were very much what his team and coach wanted to see this night. After going just 7-of-23 from the field (4-of-9 from the three-point arc) in the last three games, the senior was hesitating to pull the trigger. So, Coach Rick Stansbury told Power to do something that should be automatic with a shooter—to shoot more.

"We haven't talked a lot about shooting with anybody but Shane," Stansbury said. "He's a guy that needs to be more aggressive. I thought he was tonight."

"They've been on me to shoot more, even if some were contested shots," Power admitted. "And I'm willing to do that if it helps our team. I'm not a selfish guy." Fortunately this night he was almost greedy, not only taking open attempts but forcing his way into and through traffic for pullup jumpers and driving layups.

It was just what his teammates wanted to see, especially point guard Gary Ervin. "I always tell him that's how I'm going to get assists! He showed everybody how he can shoot the basketball." Power also showed the home fans something they had not seen in two seasons—that he could dunk a ball. At 3:10 of the second half he slashed from the right win and recorded his first stuff as a Bulldog. Which, he admitted, he had been working on lately.

That jam capped the decisive stretch of the evening, a 14-1 run that put Mississippi State in charge by a 64-50 score. Between 9:25, when Gator guard Anthony Roberson converted a three-point play, and 2:41 when center Al Horford laid the ball in, the Bulldogs put a complete clamp on Florida's league-leading offense and won the game. In that stretch four MSU players scored and half the points came on free throws as the Dogs took the ball right at the shaken Gator defense. A zone defense, mostly, as UF gambled that State could not make enough outside shots to win.

They lost. "We wanted to move," Roberts said, "and we did a good job of passing the ball around, driving and kicking, and guys did the job knocking down shots." Only one less three-point shot, in fact, than the six scored by the SEC's top outside-shooting team.

The most impressive numbers of the night came from the defensive end, however. Florida came in shooting 51% as a team and averaging 82 points. The Bulldogs held them under 39%, and 25 points below their usual output.

"It's not about scoring," Ervin said, "it was about the defensive end. We held them to 57 points so we did a good job as a team." A great job, in fact, even by MSU's high stop-standards. One startling statistic told a huge story: a Bulldog team not noted for shot-blocking swatted away a dozen Gator attempts, the most rejections ever for a MSU team in a SEC game. Campbell had seven blocks, one shy of tying the program record, while Roberts and rookie center Walter Sharpe rejected two and Power (!) another.

"We settled down and played our game defensively and did a good job on them," said Roberts. A good enough job that UF's Roberson, the SEC scoring leader, had to scramble to get 17 points and forward David Lee another 15. Swingman Matt Walsh, hounded most of the evening by Power, was just 1-of-5 from the field for only five points in 33 minutes. That might have been the most notable achievement by Power, who had to bump off countless screens chasing the explosive Walsh side-to-side.

"It wasn't easy. Those were tough screens to get through, moving screens a little. It does take a toll on you toward the end of the game. Fortunately we were ahead enough that it didn't matter."

What mattered was the six-minute span where State built the winning margin. The Dogs eased in front 49-41 after a rebound dunk by Campbell at 11:15, which had Florida calling for time. Roberson hit a trey, then converted a classic three-point play for a 50-47 score. A Bulldog turnover gave the Gators a chance to draw even tighter.

But Roberson's layup attempt was rejected by Roberts and a driving Ervin drew a foul for free throws at 8:56. After another Bulldog block the point guard drove the lane for a basket and seven-point cushion. Roberts made one free throw, and Power threw in a trey on the move. Suddenly State had a double-digit lead, which grew to 16 points after Power's crowd-rousing stuff. And thanks to offensive rebounding the Dogs were able to burn a lot of clock, which was almost as good as scoring by then.

The Gators did toss in a few late baskets to break 50 points, but the outcome was decided by that dominating stretch of Dog-ged defense. "We were digging in and really playing off our crowd's emotion," Power said. "I would do anything for us not to lose at The Hump, it means that much to me. Our fans were great tonight, in that stretch we really dug in and they got behind us and helped us get the win."

A win the Bulldogs needed to stay above .500 in SEC play and right behind Division leaders Alabama and LSU. "That was a game we had to have," Stansbury admitted.

The Gators opened in man-defense for tipoff, but the next MSU trip downcourt found Florida in a 2-3 zone. State took time—literally, twice nearly running out of shot clock—to find any soft spots, before Power sank a trey and Roberts scored on a pullup in the lane and roll to the rack for a 11-8 lead.

Neither side took great care of the ball and a UF turnover became a flying slam for Sharpe, putting State ahead 14-10 at 12:12. To that point Florida had not made a long jumpshot, letting Lee work for banked buckets. Roberson ended the drought by forcing a trey that swished. A bucket and free throw had the Gators leading again, 16-14, before Harper lost his man for a tying layup.

Roberts and Power subbed back in, and Power scored off the glass to start a 7-0 State surge. A wild Ervin drive, layup and foul produced three points and a minute later he added two more free shots for a 23-16 count. Florida regrouped and used consecutive treys, by Roberson and Walsh—his first points all evening—to re-tie things 25-25. It was still a draw when Campbell tipped in an Ervin miss so State could take a 32-30 lead into the locker room.

A lead Stansbury said was more encouraging than it might have seemed. "We were still able to go in with a two-point lead, that was an important stretch for us."

The confidence carried over to the second half, as the Bulldogs not only manufactured points but frustrated a Gator team that only only came in as big scorers but the SEC's best rebounding lineup in league-games only. The final tally had State winning the battle on the boards 39-31, and blocking a dozen shots to UF's three. "It was our ability to defend and rebound," Stansbury said. "That's where it all started. We were able to get in transition and score some baskets, not against a set defense."

Starters Ervin and Harper had nine and eight points as the tipoff-team accounted for 60 of the 71 points State scored. But Stansbury got timely minutes from Sharpe in the post, as well as guards Jamall Edmondson and Dietric Slater. "I thought it was a great team effort."

Even better, a winning one. "It's a big win because we were coming off a tough loss," Ervin said. "And we really had to bounce back. There was no better place to do it than The Hump."

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