Free throw woes doom Florida again in 71-64 loss

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

No. 23 Florida Gators at MSU Bulldogs Gameday

Location: Humphrey Coliseum – Starkville, MS [Capacity: 10,500]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: CBS/CBSHD
Online Video: CBSSports.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 23/24 FLORIDA GATORS MISS. STATE BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Stansbury
Record: 16-4 (5-1) Record: 10-9 (2-3)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC West
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -5.5; O/U 137.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against Mississippi State 57-48. The teams defeated each other once in 2010, and the Gators are 10-7 overall against the Bulldogs under Donovan including 4-3 in Starkville.
» UF has won nine-straight regular season games against the SEC West; they are 3-0 this season and looking to go undefeated against them for the second-straight year.
» Florida has won 11 of its last 13 games with seven victories against RPI top 100 teams.
» UF is a perfect 5-0 in true road games this year and 7-1 overall away from Gainesville. Florida could win its sixth road game of the year, their most since the 2005-06 season (6-4).
» The Gators best the Bulldogs in all four major statistical categories nationally. Florida holds advantages in points per game 71.8-69.2 (116th to 182nd), rebounds 38.6-36.5 (40th to 106th), assists 14.4-12.0 (90th to 256th) and field goal percentage .461-.427 (70th to 227th). The Gators rank 14th in RPI (.6389) and fifth in strength of schedule nationally compared to the Bulldogs being 177th (.4934) and 133rd, respectively.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.3 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (43.7%) and three-point percentage (40.6%). He has single-handedly accounted for 43 of Florida’s 117 treys this season. Walker became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points, accomplishing the feat earlier this year.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (10.4) while leading the Gators with 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Parsons notched his third double-double of the season on Tuesday against Georgia.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-high 58.1 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but had been marred in a slump until recently breaking out of it. Boynton is only shooting 36.8 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game and hits 81.5 percent of his free throws.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are the Gators primary reserves averaging 17.6 and 16.9 minutes per game, respectively. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads Florida in assist-to-turnover ratio (3:1), while Young is the team’s most efficient scorer at 57.4 percent.
» Mississippi State G Ravern Johnson…who plays a team-high 36.1 minutes per game and is his team’s leading scorer (18.2 points per game), too.
» Bulldogs F Kodi Augustus…who leads his squad in rebounding with 8.2 boards per game and is second on the team in scoring with 228 points scored this season.
 

LB Stewart becomes Florida’s 16th commitment

It became apparent earlier in the week, when it was reported the Florida Gators were making a late push for his commitment, that four-star linebacker Graham Stewart (Middleton, CT) may ditch the maroon and gold of the Boston College Eagles for the orange and blue. That is exactly what happened Friday as Stewart decided to decommit from Boston College and become the 16th member of Florida’s 2011 signing class.

“Yeah, I did verbally commit tonight,” Stewart told the Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hays on Friday. “It was always my dream school, but with the coaching change, that had deterred me a bit. But just the overall energy of the place and, of course, it being Florida, it just seemed to be the best place for me to become a better student and a better athlete.”

Head coach Will Muschamp visited Stewart in his home Friday and quickly earned the player’s commitment. OGGOA reported Thursday, via The Hartford Courant, that Stewart was heavily considering a switch.

“It’s a hard situation but also a good one,” Stewart told the paper. “I took two unofficial visits to Florida this summer. I have an offer from them. It’s a great honor that they believe you can play for them.”

Considered the top recruit in the state of Connecticut by Rivals, Stewart is ranked as the service’s No. 16 linebacker in the country. ESPNU lists him as a three-star player and their No. 53 overall linebacker.

Lockwood’s fight with cancer comes to an end

If you look at the Florida Gators player roster or ledger of support staff, you will not find the name Ian Lockwood. Check the history books and box scores and you will come up empty. But in head coach Urban Meyer and senior safety Ahmad Black’s final season with the team, Lockwood stood as an inspirational figure who the Gators rallied behind.

With the season now over, the 2011 Outback Bowl game ball (the one Black intercepted to seal the game) in his possession and cancer haven taking over his body, Lockwood passed away Friday evening at the all too young age of 18.

A patient at Shands Hospital in Gainesville FL, Lockwood was receiving treatments for brain cancer and underwent a second procedure shortly before the Outback Bowl. He was a passionate high school football player who had to stop playing suddenly on Oct. 8 due to an aggressive brain cancer that doctors tried to thwart and Lockwood himself attempted to fight to the best of his ability.

That fight ended Friday, a day his family, friends and extended University of Florida family prayed would never come. Survived by his mother, father and sister, Lockwood spent the last few months of his life cheering on Florida and hoping the team would find success in what was otherwise a down season.

“The young man, his love and passion for football is second-to-none,” Meyer said during his Outback Bowl press conference. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch; we spent a lot of time together.”

Black, who befriended Lockwood while visiting Shands, immediately became enthralled with his fight and passion and was touched by his perseverance. “I love the fight he has. A lot of people would have given up, but he’s still fighting,” Black told the Pensacola News Journal earlier this week.

“RIP Ian Lockwood. He was a great brother, friend and son,” Black wrote via his Twitter account Friday evening. “I’ll forever miss u bro and I thank god that u impacted my life.”

Lockwood, given a chance to speak when he was handed the game ball, was thankful for the honor and support that Florida showed him in his time of greatest need.

“This means a lot to me. Coming into Shands for treatments, [they were] always there from the beginning,” he said. “Football is definitely life to me. It is good to always have an organization there for you to support you whenever you need it.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Lockwood family.

FOUR BITS: Quinn, Black, Strong, Rosario

1 » Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has mostly been out on the road recruiting since the Seattle Seahawks were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, has been assigned the Jacksonville, FL area as his primary recruiting grounds, according to The Florida Times-Union. The Times-Union’s Hays Carlyon reports that Quinn visited a number of area high schools on Friday and notes that Florida could be interested in two Yulee High School players over the next two seasons – tight end/linebacker Kelvin Rainey in 2012 and running back Derrick Henry in 2013.

2 » When former Gators safety Ahmad Black presented the game ball from the 2011 Outback Bowl to Ian Lockwood, it was obvious the two (and then-head coach Urban Meyer) had formed a special bond. In Mobile, AL for the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, Black spoke with the Pensacola News Journal about his friendship with Lockwood and how the two became so close so quickly. “He opened the door to the Florida football program,” said Lockwood’s high school football coach Chad Lashley. “That has meant the world to Ian. It just shows the unbelievable character of Ahmad and his concern for other people. With him getting that interception, it was just the perfect ending.” You can read more thoughts from Black and Lashley by clicking here.

3 » Taking the Louisville Cardinals to a 7-6 record and earning Big East Co-Coach of the Year honors in 2010, head coach Charlie Strong appears to be in line for a new contract with a substantial raise, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, which spoke with athletic director Tom Jurich. “We want to do [give him a raise], but this staff has been busy and they’re doing a great job, so when signing day is over and we get some time, we’re definitely going to address that,” Jurich said. “It’s been great that he’s been able to keep his staff together to this point, and I can tell you those guys are really getting after it and they’re having a great time. They’re on a rocket ship right now, and it’s fun to watch.” Louisville doing what it can to keep Strong now may prevent him leaving until a significantly better job is available a few years down the road. He currently earns $1.6 million per season.

4 » Redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario is biding his time helping Florida improve during practice while he waits out a NCAA-mandated transfer season. An article written for CNN profiling Rosario’s hall of fame high school head coach Bob Hurley, Sr. notes that the player once the star of one of Hurley’s teams and describes him as a “hot-tempered kid who used basketball as a refuge from the life in a housing project.” Rosario recounted his time playing for Hurley. “He started disciplining me like I was one of his sons,” he said. “It was to the point where I was like, ‘Wow, I had never been pushed like this in my life.’ I learned how to be a man and not a boy.”

ESPN College GameDay in Gainesville on Feb. 5

As reported by OGGOA in December, ESPN College GameDay will emanate from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Feb. 5 prior to the No. 23/24 Florida Gators taking on the No. 16/14 Kentucky Wildcats later that evening at 9 p.m.

The University of Florida announced on Friday that the show will air live from Gainesville, FL next week, noting that it is the first time since 2008 and third time overall that the television program will be broadcast from inside the arena.

In addition to the two hours College GameDay airs in the morning (beginning at 10 a.m. on ESPNU and 11 a.m. on ESPN), there will be a one-hour pre-game show live from the O’Connell Center at 8 p.m. The program features host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Bob Knight. Feature reporter and former Gators dazzler Erin Andrews will not be in attendance. However, head coach Billy Donovan will likely be interviewed at some point during the second hour of the show.

The first 500 students in attendance will receive complimentary breakfast, the first 3,000 fans will be given rollbannas courtesy of State Farm, and one lucky student will shoot a half-court shot for a chance at $17,500. College GameDay also wants to see more “big heads” in the crowd. Every student who brings one will win a prize with one being awarded a “VIP prize pack.”

Photo Credit: ESPN

1/27: Donovan on Georgia win, rest of season

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability on Thursday.

STRUGGLES AFTER JANUARY

Over the previous three seasons, Donovan’s Gators are a combined 18-24 beginning on Feb. 1. Asked about his team’s ineffectiveness when trying to close out the Southeastern Conference slate and head into the postseason, Donovan pointed to the schedule as the main culprit, noting that Florida often plays many of its best opponents (read: SEC East) toward the end. The same goes for this year.

“You got to look at the scheduling and the way it falls,” he said. “We still have to play Kentucky twice. We still have to play Vanderbilt twice. We still have to play Tennessee again, Georgia again, South Carolina again. Not to say that our first five or six games were easy games, because I do not think that was the case in this league. There’s no question the teams that we’re playing going forward, I think everybody would say are probably better than the teams we’ve played up to this point in time.”

RECOUNTING THE DOUBLE-OVERTIME WIN

Looking back on UF’s double-overtime victory against Georgia, Donovan pointed out that – in the grand scheme of things – it may have been emotional but it was just a single win in a very long season.

“It’s only one win. They come pretty quickly from the standpoint of we have to go play a difficult game on the road Saturday,” he said. “I thought we had a great opportunity to win the game in regulation. We made some plays and missed some free throws to really put the game [within their reach].

“We left the door open for them. Our guys were teetering a little bit just emotionally. The game going into overtime, we found a way to get through it and keep it close. When Erving [Walker] made the three, it put them in an emotional thing where they thought the game was over with. We were able to capitalize and go on a little bit of a run.”

PLAYING IT SAFE VS. BEING AGGRESSIVE

Asked about the Gators propensity for taking three-pointers early in the shot clock, especially toward the end of games, Donovan dismissed the notion that it always angers him. Recounting some of the shots Florida took on Tuesday, he explained why quick shots – especially when they are good looks – are not always a negative thing.

“You have to maintain a level of aggressiveness,” he said. “There is a point in time in the game where you’ve got to look at the clock. Two minutes to go in a two possession game, you got to maintain a level of aggressiveness because there’s probably going to be another eight possessions in that game. […] There is a balance and a fine line there. I want our guys to maintain a level of aggressiveness. I’d rather have us being aggressive rather than trying to passively hold on.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 1/27: Donovan on Georgia win, rest of season

FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Westbrook, Stewart, Shands

1 » Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey was found to have a broken bone in his left ankle in addition to a high ankle sprain and is unlikely to play in Super Bowl XLV, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Though the Steelers refuse to completely rule out his participation in the game, chances are Pouncey will be watching from the sidelines along with fellow former Gator left tackle Max Starks, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this season with a neck injury. In the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Pouncey had started each of Pittsburgh’s 18 games this season.

2 » While Florida awaits commitments or denials from a number of top recruits, head coach Will Muschamp is making the rounds and getting in the ears of plenty of other players. Muschamp was in South Florida on Thursday meeting with three-star defensive end Tevin Westbrook (Coconut Creek, FL), who plans to make a decision Monday, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Westbrook is also considering South Florida, Connecticut, North Carolina and Purdue but will be in Gainesville, FL for an official visit this weekend.

3 » The Hartford Courant is reporting that the Gators are also after four-star linebacker Graham Stewart (Middletown, CT), a current Boston College commitment. Apparently “Florida has made a late push” for Stewart, and Muschamp is expected to fly up for an in-home visit on Friday. “It’s a hard situation but also a good situation,” Stewart told the paper Thursday. “I took two unofficial visits to Florida this summer. I have an offer from them. It’s a great honor that they believe you can play for them.”

4 » What did Gators redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus do after arriving back in Gainesville following a double-overtime victory against the Georgia Bulldogs? They headed over to Shands Children’s Hospital and visited 19-year-old cancer patient Victor Wheeler, who is constantly undergoing chemotherapy for a recurring form of cancer known as rhabdomyoscarcoma. For more pictures of their visit, check out this Facebook link.

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