Down a game-high 19 points with 13:29 left to play, the Florida Gators (21-12) rallied with a strong 14-0 run but still fell short, losing to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (22-10) 75-69 Friday night in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Southeastern Conference Tournament from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN.
Led by a 23-point effort from freshman guard Kenny Boynton, the Gators’ backcourt scored 48 of the team’s 69 total points. Sophomore point guard Erving Walker contributed 19 points on 6-12 shooting while going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Boynton finished 4-of-7 from downtown and 8-for-16 overall with a team-high three assists.
Florida began the game slow, missing their first five shots and allowing Mississippi State to get out to a 10-0 lead. A layup by Walker almost four minutes in ended the drought. The Gators attempted an early comeback, using a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 13-9, but the Bulldogs answered back and pulled ahead to a 15-point lead halfway through the period. UF finished the half with its backcourt accounting for 25 of its 28 points.
Up a game-high 19 points, 58-39, with 13:20 to left on the clock, MSU looked to have the game locked up. That was until Florida exploded on a 14-0 run to close within five as Mississippi State was held scoreless for six minutes. It would not be enough for the Gators, who would eventually get down to a four-point deficit on a Walker free throw with 1:25 to play. Florida had a chance to get within two with plenty of time left, but a mishandled pass by senior forward Dan Werner – who had a wide-open lane to the hoop in front of him – turned the ball (and perhaps the game) over to the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State shot over 66 percent from both the field and downtown for the majority of the game, but finished 57.1 percent and 50 percent from the respective locations compared to 43.6 percent and 39.1 percent for the Gators. Florida out-rebounded MSU 32-20, mostly due to the majority of the Bulldogs’ baskets going into the hoop.
Mississippi State guard Barry Stewart led the way with a team-high 17 points as F Jarvis Varnado dominated the paint with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, four rebounds and four big blocks. In all, five Bulldogs finished in double figures, with G Ravern Johnson adding 12 and G Dee Bost and F Kodi Augustus contributing 10 apiece.
Florida junior F Alex Tyus scored five points one day after a season-high 24-point performance Thursday against Auburn, redshirt junior center Vernon Macklin added three with his first bucket coming with 11:23 left in the game and junior F Chandler Parsons added 10 points with a team-high seven rebounds.
“They wanted it more tonight, it was obvious,” Boynton said after the game.
Friday’s loss was UF’s first to an SEC West opponent this season.
All that is left for the Gators is to wait for the NCAA Selection Committee to make its decision on whether or not they are worthy enough to earn a berth to the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Selection Sunday begins on March 14 at 6 p.m. on CBS. OGGOA will provide full coverage of the event.
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press