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It was definitely closer than No. 15 Florida Gators basketball (22-5, 12-2 SEC) wanted, but the visitors held on for a hard-fought 57-52 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-12, 5-9 SEC) on Saturday in Starkville, Mississippi. Florida extended its win streak to eight games and looks to have avoided another serious injury in the process.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the latest win below.
It was over when … Florida led by as many as 12 in the second half but completely blew its advantage, allowing Mississippi State to erupt on a late 19-7 scoring stretch to knot the game at 52 with less than three minutes to play. Six turnovers and five straight misses by the Gators played into the Bulldogs’ run, but lucky for the visitors, it stopped there as Florida scored the final five points of the game and held on for the victory. A clutch block by sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes made up for some poor free throw shooting – UF went 2-for-4 at the line in the closing seconds – and allowed the Gators to leave the gym with an important road victory.
First half focus: Florida was slow and sloppy early in the contest, starting down 13-7 and at one point having made just 5-of-14 shots while coughing the ball up eight times. As the Gators have often during their winning streak, they closed the half strong with a 25-11 scoring stretch while making six of their last 10 field goals to take a 32-24 lead at the break. The Bulldogs missed all 13 of their attempts from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Important injury: Despite the win, Florida saw a second key player go down with injury in as many games. Graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry injured his ankle in the final minutes of the game with replay showing him rolling it in a significant manner. He badly limped to the bench and did not return to the contest. The program has since released that “Barry’s ankle should be fine,” with head coach Mike White noting that the player wanted to return to the game. Just last week, redshirt junior center John Egbunu tore his ACL late in another close Florida win. On Monday, freshman C Gorjok Gak injured his foot in practice and is unlikely to return to the court until early March.
Exceptional efforts: Hayes was not a scoring machine Saturday, but he stole the show with nine points, a career-high 10 rebounds and four blocks. He made 2-of-3 field goals and 5-of-7 free throws, an important mark for a big man. Joining him with an impressive day was junior point guard Chris Chiozza, who scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, making 2-of-3 triples on the afternoon.
Significant stat: The 16 turnovers committed by the Gators allowed the Bulldogs to take nine additional shots and score 17 points, which made the game much closer than it otherwise should have been.
Odds and ends: Sophomore G KeVaughn Allen continued his inconsistent play with most of his 11 points coming in the second half as he finished 4-for-12 from the floor … senior PG Kasey Hill was awfully careless with the ball, committing six turnovers, including four in the first half … when Barry did play, he didn’t get much done with seven points in 22 minutes … junior forward Devin Robinson was 0-for-6 from the field … redshirt freshman F Keith Stone only managed two minutes in the game … UF shot just 1-for-7 from three in the second half and 9-for-28 overall in the latter period
What it means: Florida somehow managed to hold on and win its eighth straight game while handing Mississippi State its 17th straight loss to a ranked opponent. UF also improved to 5-0 all-time against MSU coach Ben Howland, who it beat three times when he led UCLA. The Gators survived despite being down their starting center and later their leading scorer, though that was for a short period of time. If Barry is to miss any games, Florida may be in for a rude awakening, especially with some tough games left on its schedule.
Up next: UF will host South Carolina on Tuesday as it looks for revenge against one of the two SEC programs to hand it a loss this season. The Gators will host the Gamecocks at 7 p.m. ET in a game that will air live nationally on ESPN. It will be the penultimate home game for Florida, which hosts just two of its final six opponents to end the regular season.