Coming into Starkville, MS undefeated on the road and with a nine-game regular season winning streak against the Southeastern Conference West division, the No. 23/24 Florida Gators (16-5, 5-2 SEC) struggled mightily from the free throw line and eventually fell to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-9, 3-3 SEC) 71-64 at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
Up 63-62 with 5:17 left in the game, Florida went cold from both the field and charity stripe, allowing Mississippi State to put together a 9-1 game-ending run. The Gators missed eight consecutive field goals and five of six attempts from the line, while the Bulldogs hit seven of their final eight free throw attempts to ice the game.
MSU started the first half on fire, connecting on five of their first eight shots from long distance. Taking a game-high 10-point lead early, they quickly coughed it up and allowed UF to put a dent in their deficit. Florida used a 10-2 run to tie the contest at 38, but Mississippi State would take a two-point lead going into halftime.
The Bulldogs came out of the break hot, using an 11-4 run to take a nine-point lead. The Gators answered with a 13-1 run of their own; it ended with a trey and two free throws by junior point guard Erving Walker, which gave UF its first lead of the game, 55-52.
Two triples from MSU G Dee Bost put his team ahead three, but Florida took the lead 63-62 and then tied it at 64 before falling apart at the conclusion of the contest.
All three of the Gators leads came in the second half, but their inefficiency from the line and beyond the arc doomed them in the end. Florida finished 9-of-19 from the charity stripe (47.4 percent) and only 5-of-21 from three-point range (23.8) percent. Mississippi State, after starting the game strong, went cold from three until the end of the second half. As a team, MSU finished 19-for-23 from the line.
Unlike the Gators, which saw all 10 of their players score, only four Bulldogs got the ball in the basket. Bost led MSU with 24 points and went 4-for-8 from downtown, forwards Kodi Augustus and Renardo Sidney each scored 16, and G Ravern Johnson contributed 15 important points.
Walker led Florida with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting but was only 2-for-8 from downtown. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin scored 10 points, and senior F Chandler Parsons grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with nine points.
Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton, who is supposed to be one of the Gators best scorers, went an anemic 2-for-11 from the field and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Senior F Alex Tyus added six points and five boards.
Mississippi State has now won four of their last five meetings against Florida, which will likely be unranked once again when the new top 25 polls are released on Monday.
The Gators’ schedule does not get any easier going forward. Florida will face No. 22/19 Vanderbilt (Tuesday) and No. 16/14 Kentucky (Saturday) in consecutive home games next week. Both games will air live at 9 p.m. on ESPN, with College GameDay emanating from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press