Lead by Egor Koulechov’s 23 points and 8 rebounds on offense and a firm effort on defense that left the Bulldogs frustrated all night, the Gators came up victorious over Mississippi State by a score of 71-54. Florida did an excellent job targeting the offensive threats of Bulldogs like Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon and forced them to take tough shots or give up the ball the other players the Gators were comfortable with shooting. Keeping opponents to 54 points will win you a lot of basketball games and the Gators are continuing to show that they are an improving defensive team. Other noticeable statlines include Chris Chiozza (playing with strep throat) having 10 points and 7 assists and Keith Stone adding 10 points and a career high 8 rebounds. Florida’s win keeps them on top of the SEC standings at a perfect 4-0 and keeps their winning streak going at 6 games.
One Man Show
Egor Koulechov scored the first 13 points of the game for Florida, personally outscoring Mississippi State 13-12 to start the contest. In typical Koulechov fashion, he hit 3 smooth three pointers and took his smaller defender into the low block for two post up buckets. Mostly playing the small forward spot Koulechov often won’t have the luxury of being guarded by a smaller player, but we he does have a size advantage I love him taking the ball down low for a different layer to the Gators’ offense.
Florida entered the game as the 2nd best team in the nation in ball security, and that number took a hit tonight as they turned the ball over 14 times. Mississippi State is a strong defensive team and 14 turnovers isn’t horrifying (the Gators forced 16 so they still won that category) but Egor Koulechov and Keith Stone (4 turnovers each) made some poor decisions with the ball tonight and will hopefully use this as a learning experience.
Florida caught a break when big man Aric Holman fouled out on a blocking call with 13:19 remaining in the second half. Holman was giving the Gators some trouble inside with his length putting in 7 points and 4 rebounds before fouling out and his departure started the Gators really opening up the lead. The score was within a few possessions when coach Ben Howland re-entered him into the game with 4 fouls, so I can’t imagine he thought it was a due-or-die moment where he felt he needed his best guys out to make a run. I could be wrong. Whatever possessed him to put Holman back into the game, it did not pan out for him due to the immediate foul and the Bulldogs losing any momentum they had going. Howland hasn’t been able to catch a break against the Gators in his career, as this loss brings him to 0-6 all time against the orange and blue.
Illness has been running it’s way through the Gators’ locker room and tonight Deaundrae Ballard was hit with the bug. He was so sick that that not only was he not on the bench, he wasn’t even in the arena. He’ll likely be held out of practices the next few days and hopefully will be good to go for Saturday. Michael Okauru got many of Ballard’s minutes in his absence (18 total) and was quiet on offense with 3 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist but he looked comfortable against SEC competition and continues to be a fan favorite.
Isaiah Stokes wasn’t active for this game, but he was dressed and was out during warm-ups getting some shots up. Whether he plays this season is still in question, but seeing him on the floor putting up smooth jumpers was a brief look at how he could help this team. The improved play of Kevarrius Hayes (6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals tonight) and Keith Stone has made fans a little less antsy about the frontcourt situation, but any foul or injury trouble to the big men could really hurt Florida so I’m sure they are thinking strongly of activating Stokes if and when he is healthy.
What’s Up Next
Florida heads to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday, January 13. There will be a noticeable difference between tonight’s game and the matchup with the Rebels as while Mississippi State struggles to score but defends hard Ole Miss can really score but has trouble keeping the ball out of their own hoop. This game could have a lot of firepower, so make sure to keep it locked to Gator Country leading up to this game!