State Clinches SEC West With Win At Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - After losing a 4-3 lead near the 18:00 mark of the first half, the Florida Gators (21-8, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) trailed the remainder of the game as the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs (20-8, 11-3) employed the nation's second-ranked field-goal percentage defense to cruise to a 68-59 victory Saturday afternoon.

With the win, the Bulldogs claimed the outright SEC Western Division Championship, their fourth divisional title in six campaigns.

Sophomore shooting specialist Ben Hansbrough led the offensive attack for Mississippi State, tying a season-high 20 points on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc and claiming five rebounds. The nation's leading blocker, sophomore Jarvis Varnado, sent back seven Gators shots on the afternoon while contributing 11 points and rebounds apiece to register his fifth double-double of the season. Senior Charles Rhodes recorded 15 points and eight rebounds while sophomore guard Barry Stewart chipped in 10 points and eight boards.

Sophomore Marreese Speights led the Gators in the loss, shooting 8-of-15 for 20 points and also grabbing 10 boards to eighth double-double of the season, and his third-straight. Freshman phenom Nick Calathes contributed 18 points and seven rebounds, while Junior Walter Hodge's 11 points rounded out UF players in double-digits.

State jumped out to a 14-4 lead early while Florida missed their first five three-pointer attempts. MSU continued to dominate the game throughout the first stanza, and took a 39-27 advantage into halftime.

The Gators came out shooting in the second half, however, with a 9-1 stretch out of halftime while holding State to without a field goal until a Rhodes layup at the 12:54 mark, making the MSU lead 43-36. After starting 1-of-10 to begin the second half, MSU then got hot, scoring on five of their next six attempts from the floor, leading 54-42 at the 7:18 mark. Though UF pulled to within six, at 58-52 with 3:09 on the clock, that would be as close as the home team would come as MSU scored seven-straight points, highlighted by a Varnado dunk at the 1:00 mark to ice the contest.

The victory hands Mississippi State its 20th win of the season, the school's 14th 20-plus-win season of all time and the seventh under head coach Rick Stansbury. In addition, Varnado's seven blocks helped MSU set a new all-time single-season team blocks record of 228 swats, surpassing last season's record-breaking 222.

In the battle of the SEC's two most potent field-goal shooting teams in conference play, Mississippi State owned the advantage by shooting 41.8% as a team while holding their opponents to just 36.1%, marking the 10th (of fourteen) SEC opponents MSU has held to under 40% shooting this year.

After defeating the Gators for the first time in the squads' past four matchups, and having now won seven of their last eight contests overall, the Western Division champion Bulldogs will now travel to face the 18th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT and the event will not be televised.

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