"In our players' eyes we weren't an underdog tonight," said Stansbury. "Maybe in everybody else's eyes we were. When you look at the numbers such as wins and RPI, we were better than Florida in both of those situations. There is no question that Florida is a tremendous basketball game, but we had won five in a row coming into this game and were playing as well as anybody in this league."
Leading up to the game, MSU had things happen that would have discouraged most teams. First, Michael Ignerski battled flu-like symptoms earlier in the week and came into the game at less than full strength, then second-team all-SEC Mario Austin suffered a slightly pulled hamstring and missed a couple of practices during the week.
"I had a cramp in my right leg and it kind of had me down yesterday in practice," said Austin. "I worked it out last night with a lot of treatment. Coming into this game, I told (the team) that I would give what I had."
The game started off slow with neither team doing much offensively. The first points of the game were scored by MSU's Derrick Zimmerman when he scored a three-pointer with about 3 minutes having run off the clock. Florida wouldn't score until there was 15:30 left on the clock.
It wouldn't get much better for either team during the rest of the half. At the end of the first half, the score was Florida 25, Mississippi State 22. MSU's Michael Ignerski and Derrick Zimmerman, with their 7 first-half points apiece, kept the Bulldogs in it as did the smothering Bulldog defense.
"We only shot 29% in the first half," said MSU assistant coach Robert Kirby. "Our defense kept us in the game in that half. That is a big part of this team. As long as we defend and rebound, we know our shooting touch will come to us." Things turn around, offensively, in the second half for the Bulldogs. Or should I say MSU's Timmy Bowers turned it around in the second half.
MSU's thin, but very athletic, guard Timmy Bowers exploded on the scene in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points in the half.
Before Bowers started his second half show, Mississippi State would take the lead from the Gators with dunks by Michael Ignerski and Derrick Zimmerman, three-pointers by Ignerski and Marckell Patterson and a couple of free-throws by Mario Austin. After those points, MSU led Florida 36-29.
Florida first-team all-SEC center Udonis Haslem was out for most of that period due to getting his 3rd foul at the 19:37 mark in the half. However, he would come back in when Patterson put the Bulldogs up 36-29 at the 15:32 mark. Haslem would not come out of the game from that point on.
MSU's Mario Austin would also pick up his third foul early in the half, picking it up at the 14:25 mark.
With Austin playing with a pulled hamstring and with three fouls on him, the MSU outside game took over the game, offensively.
Timmy Bowers would score his first two points with 14:03 on the clock. That put the Bulldogs ahead 38-31.
Florida's outstanding guard Brett Nelson would one-up him with a three-pointer to pull the Gators within 4.
With the Bulldog crowd getting a little anxious, MSU's Derrick Zimmerman would make a steal and go in for a slam-dunk to put MSU back on top by 6 with 12:31 left on the clock.
That play didn't surprise Stansbury. "There is no question about Derrick Zimmerman's athleticism," said Stansbury. "He is one of the quickest, most athletic guards in this league."
Florida would turn right around and take advantage of Austin having three fouls by scoring 4 points from Bonner (2 pts) and Haslem (2 pts). That would pull Florida back to within 5 with 9:30 left on the clock.
Showing very little concern, the Bulldogs' Timmy Bowers would answer their 4 with a three-pointer with 9:08 on the clock.
The Gators would once again go inside to Haslem who would get fouled attempting to score. He would make 1-of-2 to get Florida back to within 4.
Mario Austin, playing more outside than normal, would pass inside to Bowers who scored on a layup to make the score 45-39.
On Florida's next possession, the MSU defense would shut them down and come back down the court. Zimmerman would get fouled and make 1-of-2 to put the Bulldogs ahead 46-39.
Florida came back down the court and once again went inside to Haslem who scored a two-pointer. MSU's lead was now cut to 5, 46-41, with 5:52 on the clock.
The Gators fans were showing some life and were hopeful that the Bulldogs would began to falter.
Obviously, the Gators fans haven't seen the new look Bulldogs. They aren't the same ones they saw in Gainesville a few weeks ago.
Not only would the Bulldogs not falter but they would continue to add insult to injury. Ontario Harper, seeing Timmy Bowers sneaking around the back, threw a long pass over the top of the inside defense of the Gators to a high-flying Bowers who did a massive ally-oop dunk. His head was about 3 or 4 inches below the rim when his dunked slammed into the net. The score was now 48-41, MSU. The clock showed 5:31 left. The Bulldog crowd went wild.
In an understatement, Stansbury commented on Bowers' athletic ability. "People underestimate Timmy Bowers' athleticism because he is not real physical but he is very explosive."
The Gators were now getting a little concerned because each time they would score, MSU would come right back and also score. They needed to do something and they would, at least temporarily.
Florida chipped into the Bulldog lead and got to within 4 with 4:30 to go. However, Bowers, the clutch Bulldog on this day, would once again stop the Gator momentum with a three-pointer with 4 seconds on the shot clock. The lead was now 52-45, Bulldogs, with 3:30 left on the clock.
Time was now starting to be a concern for the Gators and they started to hurry up a bit on offense. The Bulldog defense didn't help matters.
Knowing the game was now theirs to lose, MSU would put the clinches on the Gators' offense over the next 2 minutes and 30 seconds, not allowing the Gators to score during that time frame.
In the meantime, the Bulldog offense would score 5 points from the free-throw line to go up 12, 57-45, with 1:04 to go.
The Bulldogs, not wanting to stop the clock, allowed the Gators to score 4 unanswered points. The score was now 57-49 with 49 seconds on the clock.
The Gators sensed a little life was left. The Bulldogs' defense would take care of that very quickly.
From there on out, the Bulldogs converted 3 of 6 free throws and recorded a dunk by Ignerski to win the game by ten, 62-52. During the period, the Gators would score just an open three-pointer by Justin Hamilton with 35 seconds on the clock.
The Bulldogs now had their revenge for the embarrassing loss in Gainesville earlier in the season. And, maybe, just maybe, a little respect from the nation's basketball experts.
According to Stansbury, the key wasn't keying on Haslem, but keying on a couple of other Gator players. "Defensively, I thought that we did a tremendous job containing Hamilton and Nelson," said Stansbury. "We thought that was a huge key coming into this basketball game."
Brett Nelson, during his last five ballgames, had hit 19 of 33 three-pointers (58%). During this game, he was held to 2 out of 6 from three-point range. Hamilton scored 13, although he only made 5-of-15 from the field.
The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Bowers' 17. Other Bulldogs who were in double figures included Zimmerman with 15, Ignerski with 14 and Austin with 10.
Neither team shot the ball well from the field, with MSU shooting 37% and Florida shooting 31%. Coming into the game, the two teams were leading the SEC in field goal percentage.
Florida shooting 31% wasn't a fluke in the eyes of the Bulldog players or coaches. "The key to our success is our defense," said Zimmerman. "We try to be good defensively. We know we are pretty good on offense, but we just try to take people out of what they do offensively."
As far as this win being an upset, the media may think so but don't tell that to Stansbury. "What happened tonight, in our minds, wasn't a huge upset," said Stansbury. "I think our team is very good." Zimmerman agreed. "Nobody believed we could come here and win. We knew we could win."
Assistant coach Robert Kirby said it best in describing this Bulldog team. "The chemistry is so good on this team. When you play with a lot of heart and passion, good things will happen."
So right you are, Coach Kirby, so right you are.
Next up for the Bulldogs are the LSU Tigers, second-round winners over Georgia. MSU and LSU split during the season. Gametime is set for noon Central Time, 1 p.m Eastern Time.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.