Updated on Sunday at 4:45 p.m.
Florida Gators basketball (9-6, 2-0 SEC) continued its solid start to Southeastern Conference play by cruising to a 72-47 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-8, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. The win was Florida’s 20th consecutive regular-season victory in SEC play and 18th-straight home win against a league opponent dating back to Jan. 9, 2013.
“They’re becoming more of a team,” Donovan said. “We are not going to be able to out-talent people, we’re not. We’ve got to become a really good team. It’s got to be a team that the sum is greater than its parts.”
Donovan added: “This team cannot play in a comfort zone. We’re not talented enough, we’re not deep enough, we’re not physical enough, we’re not strong enough. We need to play with incredible passion, desire and for each other and become a team. If we don’t do that, we’re below-average. I’m just saying, calling it like it is. They’ve got to do that. This has been a learning, growing process for them. Certainly I don’t want them dwelling on the past, we can’t get any of that back, it’s about going forward.”
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:
It was over when / significant stretch: Already leading by 20, the Gators doubled up the Bulldogs 54-27 on the back of an 8-1 run including consecutive threes by redshirt juniors guard Eli Carter and forward Dorian Finney-Smith. The stretch eventually increased to 10-1 with UF’s lead jumping to 29 points midway through the half.
Prominent players: Most of the Gators played well, but Carter and Finney-Smith were easily a level above anyone else on their roster – or in the game for that matter. Carter truly found his groove back the first time in nearly two months, posting a game-high 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-6 from deep) with two assists. Finney-Smith made 7-of-11 shots for 16 points with a game-high six rebounds.
“When he’s out there, he’s almost like having another point guard out there, mentally, because he’s got really good vision, he’s got a good feel, he knows how to play,” said head coach Billy Donovan of Carter. “What he’s got to do is if he does not shoot the ball well, that’s part of the game, we’ve got to get those other things from him. In the past, he has not done that, but I think he’s working hard to try to become that.”
First half focus: A 12-1 run, including back-to-back threes by Carter and Finney-Smith, spotted Florida a 20-5 lead midway through the half. The Gators also made nine of their first 10 shots from the field. From there, UF went into a bit of a drought but regrouped with a 9-2 scoring stretch and half-ending 8-3 run to take a 20-point lead into the break.
“He’s got a really good idea and understanding of how to put the defense in binds thorough his movement,” Donovan noted regarding Finney-Smith. “When he moves well, it really creates and opens up a lot of different things because he is long, he does pass it and he does put it on the floor.”
Perfect plays: For Florida, a chase-down block early in the contest by sophomore forward Chris Walker was only topped by classmate Kasey Hill, as the point guard drove the lane, crossed over behind his back and hit Carter, who drained a three. But the play of the game went to Mississippi State’s Demetrius Houston, who hit a past-half court buzzer-beater to end the opening 20 minutes.
Standout stat: The Gators did a lot of things right on Saturday, but the way Florida shared the ball and worked as a unit was outstanding. UF had 19 assists on 28 made baskets with just seven turnovers for the entire game. Hill finished with a game-high seven dimes and a team-best plus-minus of +23 on the evening.
“I think we’re getting better there,” Donovan said. “I thought our ball movement was really good, we shared it, we played unselfishly. Nineteen assists is a great number, in my opinion. We didn’t turn it over much. We did some good things on the offensive end of the floor in terms of ball movement.”
Notable nicks: Walker appeared to hurt his left leg late in the second half. He limped off the court and was wincing in pain on the bench while being tended to by a trainer, finishing with two points and four boards. It was later revealed that Walker was just suffering from cramps. Earlier in the game, redshirt junior F Alex Murphy busted open his mouth but returned to the court after being treated in the locker room. He notched seven points on 3-of-4 shooting but committed four fouls in 13 minutes.
What it means: The Gators have started their SEC slate with gusto, picking up a win in what became a hard-fought game at South Carolina before thrashing the Bulldogs in Gainesville. UF will have every opportunity to build on the victory with a home game set for the middle of the week.
Next up: Florida will host Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m. It is the second of three home games in a four-game span that the Gators will play before going on a two-game road trip in late January.
Everything else: Hill started 3-for-3 from the field with six points in the first seven minutes of the game; he missed his next five shots … Carter had more points at the half (10) than he had in any game since Nov. 17, 2014 … freshman F Devin Robinson had a solid game, going 5-for-9 with 12 points; he was the team’s third-leading scorer … redshirt junior walk-on Lexx Edwards entered the game with a minute to play … Florida dominated the paint, outscoring Mississippi State 32-16 down low … the Gators led for 39:21 of the 40-minute game
Sidelined starters: Junior G Michael Frazier II (strep throat) did not start the game but played off the bench, entering for the first time with 15:11 remaining in the first half. He finished with six points, four boards and three dimes in 22 minutes. Redshirt senior Jon Horford was pulled off his suspension but did not play in the game, as originally planned.