Sometimes you just have to win ugly. Fortunately, ugly wins count the same as the pretty ones. Florida’s 12th straight win wasn’t of the pretty variety as the 3rd-ranked Gators (18-2, 7-0 SEC) kept their SEC record perfect by slugging out a 62-51 victory over Mississippi State (13-8, 3-4 SEC) at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville.
“It wasn’t a pretty win but a lot of times that’s not the way road games are,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in his post game remarks on the Gator Radio Network.
The Gators didn’t shoot the ball all that well – 24-52 overall, 6-20 from the 3-point line and a miserable 8-19 at the foul line – and there were times when it seemed they left all their energy back at the hotel, but once they went on a 14-4 second half run that distanced them from the Bulldogs, it was a cruise control win. Instead of the 20-25 point win that it could have been, Florida’s inability to finish around the rim, poor shot selection and too many foul line bricks kept the game closer than it should have been.
“It was one of those games when there was no flow for us offensively,” Donovan said. “We struggled moving the ball, passing the ball. We didn’t finish plays around the basket. We had some ill-advised shots. We had drives we just couldn’t finish.”
Although the Gators didn’t have an efficient offensive game, they did turn in a workmanlike performance defensively. Mississippi State was held to 23-54 shooting (42.6%) and only 4-14 from the 3-point line. In the last three games, the Gators have held opponents to 7-45 from the 3-point line.
In their 11 home wins the Bulldogs generated much of their offense from the defensive end. They came into the game leading the league in steals and averaging 10 per game at home, but Florida did a good job protecting the ball. The Gators committed only nine turnovers in the game and Mississippi State managed just four steals.
It was a game of spurts for the Gators, who won their fourth straight SEC road game, the first time that’s happened since the national championship season in 2007. Florida had lapses on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court in both halves but they made the plays when they counted the most and they didn’t beat themselves with silly mistakes. By committing only 12 personal fouls, the Gators didn’t let the Bulldogs live at the foul line. They were 1-6 for the game when but they came into the contest averaging more than 30 attempts in games played at Humphrey Coliseum.
Donovan said he thought the Gators came into the game ready to play but admitted they weren’t very sharp.
“I think we were ready to play but we weren’t sharp and crisp and in tune with what we needed to do.”
Mississippi State held a 16-15 first half lead when the Gators went on a 12-2 run that was sparked by a 3-point jumper and a 3-point play the old fashioned way by Scottie Wilbekin. The layup that was part of the 3-point play by Wilbekin with 6:04 to go was the last shot the Gators made from the field in the first half. Jacob Kurtz made a free throw with 5:39 to go to give the Gators a 27-18 lead.
That was the last time they scored in the first half.
Mississippi State scored the last eight points of the half to close the gap to 27-26 at the intermission. Florida had chances to take the air out of the building in the last five minutes but they missed three 3-pointers, two by Michael Frazier and one by Wilbekin that did everything but go down.
‘If we could have made two of those threes it really could have opened the game for us,” Donovan said.
Florida made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to start the second half and it paid off by getting Patric Young, who sat the last 13 minutes of the first half with two fouls, back into the flow of the game. After Prather got the Gators on the scoreboard to start the second half, Young scored the next four points for the Gators, getting a dunk off an offensive rebound and a layup off a nifty pass from Dorian Finney-Smith that gave the Gators a 33-30 lead.
Going inside early was part of Donovan’s halftime adjustment and it set the tempo for the final 20 minutes.
“We needed to get something at the basket,” Donovan said. “They were switching everything up top. We didn’t handle the end of the half very well.”
The Gators led 33-32 when Young got a 9-0 run going with a strong move to the basket with 15:16 to go in the game. After I.J. Ready stopped the bleeding temporarily with a jumper with 11:56 to go, the Gators scored the next five on a Young baby hook and the first 3-pointer of the game by Michael Frazier. Frazier was 0-5 in the first half and had missed his first long distance shot attempt of the second when he connected with 10:18 to go in the game for a 47-34 Florida lead. Frazier would go on to hit his next two to finish the game with nine points on 3-9 from the 3-point line.
Mississippi State was never able to get closer than nine the rest of the way even though the Gators went only 3-8 from the foul line down the stretch.
GAME NOTES: Prather led the Gators with 16 points hitting 7-8 from the field but a poor 2-7 from the foul line. He has been in double figures all 18 games he has played this season … Young was the only other Gator in double figures with 12. He also had eight rebounds and three blocked shots … Finney-Smith flirted with a double-double, scoring eight and grabbing nine rebounds … Florida outrebounded Mississippi State, 38-30 … The Gators had 14 assists on 24 made baskets with Wilbekin leading the way with eight to go with his eight points … Kasey Hill contributed seven points and three assists off the bench … The Gators will try to extend their home winning streak to 27 Saturday when they play host to Texas A&M in the first of three straight games at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.