Florida headed in to Saturday ‘s matchup against Mississippi State with a few unanswered questions.
Most notably, many wondered how the Gators would bounce back from their first SEC loss and how would they fare without defensive stalwart Will Yeguete.
While the toughest tests of the year remain in front of them, the Gators easily handled their first post-Yeguete exam, defeating the Bulldogs 83-58.
Although the Gators were without Yeguete, the Bulldogs also were short handed as it was announced shortly before the game that MSU coach Rick Ray had suspended starting guard Jalen Steele.
Even without Steele, the Bulldogs managed to keep it close in the game’s early stages as poor shooting plagued both teams.
As the starting lineup for the Gators was announced, one player who was noticeably absent was junior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was benched by Billy Donovan for undisclosed reasons. Stepping in to the vacated starting role was freshman Michael Frazier II, who received the first start of his Florida career.
After a cold start from the field, it was Frazier who eventually ignited the Florida side of the scoreboard as he would begin a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the three-point arc.
Earlier in the week, Donovan suggested that forward Casey Prather had yet to return to form since coming back from a high-ankle sprain, which kept him sidelined for two weeks.
Whether Donovan was simply stating his mind or trying to encourage him, Prather took his coach’s words to heart. After missing an easy layup, Prather would finish the half with eight points on 4 of 7 shooting, including an exciting dunk to bring the large O-Dome crowd to its collective feet.
Mike Rosario would quietly lead the Gators in scoring in the first half, scoring 10 points en route to the Gators’ 42-26 lead at the break.
The second half didn’t offer much in terms of intrigue as MSU eventually showed signs of a team that only dressed eight players, including just six on scholarship. The Gators took advantage of the undermanned Bulldogs, running around the tired visitors and never letting them back into the game.
Florida finished with five players scoring in double figures: Rosario (18), Erik Murphy (17), Prather (12), Frazier (11) and Kenny Boynton (10). As a team, the Gators finished 53.4 percent from the field on 31 of 58 shooting.
The Gators now look to hold arguably their toughest home test to date as the Kentucky Wildcats come to town on Tuesday.