When the Florida Gators basketball team stepped onto the court in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Tuesday night it was with a cockiness that they weren’t ready to back up. The Gators came away with an 81-78 win, but just barely.
After shining earlier in the week versus Ole Miss, it seemed that Florida would just roll right on over Mississippi State. Turns out the team thought the same thing, and that was their downfall.
“We got the win but it wasn’t a good one,” was the blunt response from sophomore forward Devin Robinson.
“We didn’t come in here with the right mentality that we’re supposed to come out with… I mean it was just like, ‘I mean its Mississippi State’. No disrespect to them at all but you know like, they at the bottom of the league and stuff. That’s basically it. We try to come out here and play hard but we underestimated them a little bit.”
What saved the Gators was a second half that saw them claw, fight, scrape and pull to get back into the game. In the end, it came down to free throws with center John Egbunu and freshman guard KeVaughn Allen going 4-4 and 2-2 respectively, sandwiching a Bulldogs layup, to give Florida the three point lead that would be the difference maker.
“Give credit to Mississippi State, they had a better first half,” said Egbunu.
“Second half we just had to come together and sell out and get some stops and that kind of helped us on the offensive end.
The difference, it seems, is that the Gators were coming off of a win and a good one at that. It seems strange; one would think that a win, and the two games before it (a win over LSU and close loss over TAMU) would start a positive snowball effect. But as has happened time and time again with this Florida Gators basketball team, a win means one step forward and then two steps back—especially in junction with the SEC schedule.
- Good win over Georgia
- Bad loss to Tennessee
- Good win over LSU
- Loss to TAMU
- Great win over Ole Miss
- Almost lost to Mississippi State
Every loss lights a fire under this team, causing them to push themselves to bounce back with a vengeance. Then a win results from that, but consequently causes a lackadaisical attitude. The problem, according to senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, is not knowing how to handle success—success at any level.
“Just an immature team,” said a brutally honest Finney-Smith.
“We got to learn from this. We gotta learn from winning. We always tend to play harder after we lost but we gotta start learning from winning.”
Hearing that those words had come from Doe was a bit of relief to head coach Mike White, because it meant his message was getting through to at least one member of his team, and from there a trickle down effect could begin.
“I’m glad he said that because that was our message. We’re coming off probably our best performance, to beat a good team on the road in the SEC and to break through like that and to play with the lead we played with in Oxford; we were in a really good rhythm, we were really defending and KeVaughn stepped up and made good shots. That was as well as we’ve played. And then to allow Mississippi State to get out to the great start that they got out to offensively, and to finish the half the way they did… we can’t outscore people. We were fortunate to outscore them tonight. We caught a couple of breaks. I thought Mississippi State had a couple opportunities late. If a couple of those fall for them, we’re sitting here with an L.”
At times, teams will have to grind games out. “If you’re on a championship run, sometimes you have to win games like that”, as Florida Gators head football coach Jim McElwain says. This could possible end up being that game for the Florida Gators basketball game. The key will be learning from it; examining what went wrong and what they did to win it. By combining that with everything that went right versus Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss, this team has the chance to mature and learn not only what it means to win, but how to properly win.
The next test for the Gators will be on Saturday the 23rd versus Auburn in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Tip off is set for 8pm on SEC Network and as always join GatorCountry.com for full updates and coverage.