Despite some drama at the end of the game that saw things get a little bit too close for comfort the Florida Gators were able to hold on for a much-needed win, beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs by a score of 61-59. The Gators were leading by a more comfortable margin of 60-50 with four minutes remaining but went cold offensively, allowing the Bulldogs to get back in the ball game. Even though the Gators got a scare they were able to hold on for the win, improving to 4-3 in the SEC.
Recently the Gators have been a suffocating defensive force, playing as a top-5 defense in the country since the start of January. Playing against a Mississippi State squad that entered the game struggling offensively the Gators were able to enforce their will once again, holding the Bulldogs to 59 points on 39% shooting. Florida’s defense has remained stout in recent games and the team has taken immense pride on that end and they were rewarded once again, functionally winning this game with their excellence on the defensive end. Noticeably a part of their strategy the Gators were sitting in the gaps to take away dribble drive opportunities from the Bulldogs who were forced to shoot perimeter jumpers which is an area they struggle. Mississippi State ended the game 4-17 from three, a big part of Florida’s success.
A Dominant Force No More
Center Tolu Smith has been an issue for Florida in recent years with some huge games, but you wouldn’t have known it with how the Gators limited his production on Saturday. The 6’11”, 250 pound Smith was still able to get some things going offensively but was generally limited, finishing the game with 12 points on 5-15 shooting. Colin Castleton deserves a lot of credit for his work in the one on one matchup but Florida’s guards also did an excellent job of digging down and making Smith uncomfortable as he forced up tough, contested shots. The Gators have had an issue in recent games protecting their rim and having problems getting beat by opposing big men but that wasn’t an issue against Mississippi State where Florida’s perimeter defense was solid.
Sharing The Rock
So far this season the Gators haven’t been known for their high-assist count but they had a nice game sharing the ball against the Bulldogs finishing with 16 assists. Kyle Lofton led the way as he normally does with 6 assists while Myreon Jones followed him with 5. The impact of Jones as a secondary ball handler has been huge in recent games as he has provided playmaking and passing that the Gators haven’t always had from someone other than their point guards. Jones, known more as a shooter, didn’t have a great game from behind the arc (0-2, 1-4 from the field) but his ability to create shots for his teammates made him a valuable piece.
Florida and Mississippi State are two of the top defensive teams in the SEC so going into this game you knew it was going to be low scoring but the Gators were able to create a cushion by being the better defensive squad and they were rewarded with a big win. It’s not easy to win on the road in the SEC but the Gators brought a high level of effort and intensity that allowed them to get a win they were desperate for. The offense remains a negative and there are times the team looks uninspired offensively but they take pride on the defensive end and it has resulted in several wins in recent weeks.