Things started favorably for the Gators in the first half as their lead swelled to 16 points against the Mississippi State Bulldogs but their double-digit lead wasn’t enough. Adjustments by coach Ben Howland and his team at the half got them back in the game, shooting 70% from the field in the second stanza to beat the Gators 78-71. This is yet another example of the Gators building a lead only to have it fizzle away, a common occurrence of the last few seasons. They now fall to 4-3 in the SEC and have a lot of work to do if they’re going to stay near the top of the league.
Second Half Meltdown
In the first half the Gators were scoring out of their regular continuity offense, and scoring quite well. Whatever adjustments the Bulldogs made definitely worked as they stymied Florida in the second half and forced multiple long droughts. Even more of a problem than Florida’s second half offense was their defense as they allowed Mississippi State to get whatever they wanted whether it was in transition or in their half court sets. Ending the game at 54% from the field and 58% from three the Bulldogs were devouring Florida’s pick and roll defense and either dumping the ball inside to their bigs or finding open shooters behind the arc. You can take your choice as to what you think the bigger problem was for the Gators but there were serious issues on either side of the floor.
The best player in this game was Reggie Perry, Mississippi State’s 6’10” post who finished with 27 points on 9-14 shooting. When he caught the ball anywhere near the rim it was game over for Florida and even though they sent multiple bodies in there to try to swipe at the ball there was nothing they could do to stop him. He also got the best of Kerry Blackshear on the other end as well limiting him to only 3-10 shooting and ultimately the Bulldog’s frontcourt won this battle.
There were stretches of this game where neither team was playing particularly crisply and when that happened it definitely seemed to be in Mississippi State’s favor. They won the rebound battle by 9, getting some key offensive rebounds near the end of the game that stopped any chance the Gators had to win and also came up with a lot of the 50-50 balls. They were the more physical team in the paint on both sides of the floor, finishing most of their attempts near the rim and stopping the Gators on the other end from getting anything easy on the inside. Mississippi State is as physical a team as you’re going to see in college basketball and the Gators aren’t built to win these types of games.
One Bright Spot
Scottie Lewis had his best offensive performance of the season with 17 points, most of them in the first half and most of them coming off jump shots. Coming off the Baylor game where he had 0 points in 25 minutes this has to be encouraging for him and he looked confident with all his attempts. It wasn’t just on the offensive end where he contributed as he had 3 steals but it was definitely his work on the offensive end that was most impressive. Florida is going through a rough patch right now and will need someone to step up and if Lewis continues to produce at something close to this level it could really help.
This was a game Florida really needed at home and the loss has to really hurt them. Not only is the loss going to hurt them in the standings but the way in which they lost is likely to leave them feeling deflated. They had a 16-point lead and ended up losing by 7 and it felt like they were helpless on the defensive end as the Bulldogs did anything they wanted with the basketball. Mike White has always tried to build his teams on the defensive end and that has easily been the place where the team has struggled the most. It’s awfully late in the season to make major changes but the Gators have to do something different to find a way to get stops.