A highly-contested contest for most of the game, the No. 13/14 Florida Gators (17-4, 5-1 SEC) used quality defense and high-percentage shots to pull away from their opponent and defeat the No. 16/18 Misssissippi State Bulldogs (17-5, 4-3 SEC) 69-57 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Saturday afternoon.
Florida freshman guard Brad Beal played his most complete game of the year for the Gators, scoring a game-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting while going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. UF shot 45.8 percent (11-of-24) from downtown as a team and registered 15 assists while turning the ball over just five times in the victory.
Shooting poorly early and down three points midway through the first half, Florida used a 7-2 run and an 8-2 scoring stretch to take a 27-20 lead with 3:06 left before the break. Mississippi State answered with five-straight points, but junior forward Erik Murphy’s third trey of the first 20 minutes helped UF hold a three-point advantage at halftime.
The Gators and Bulldogs battled early in the second half until Florida began to pull away again thanks to a 7-1 run that put them up 47-39 with 10:43 remaining. UF played top-notch defense during the scoring stretch with a pair of charges by redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario and sophomore forward Will Yeguete as two of the standout plays.
The highlight of the game also came during the run as Gators sophomore center Patric Young threw down a hammer dunk on a put-back from a missed three-pointer shot by senior point guard Erving Walker.
The Gators, despite not taking a free throw for the first 35 minutes of the game and not making one until there was 1:13 left in the contest, won their 17th consecutive game at the O’Dome. Florida had 15 assists on 27 baskets, won the turnover battle 14-5 and outscored MSU off turnovers (13-7), in the paint (28-14), off the bench (20-10) and on second chance opportunities (9-3).
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gators 34-26 (8-5 offensive) but failed to score consistently enough to keep the game close in the waning minutes only receiving 12 points apiece from G Dee Bost and F Arnett Moultrie.
Beal added four rebounds and just one turnover to his total but was not the only Florida player who played well offensively. Young scored 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting with six boards in 24 minutes, and Murphy added 14 points by making 4-of-7 attempts from downtown. Young, Yeguete and Rosario combined for five charges in the game.
Junior G Kenny Boynton, the Gators’ leading scorer this season, was held to just two points but remained a factor by dishing five dimes to help his team. Walker reached 10 points and added four assists while only giving up the ball once.
Victorious in a pair of hard-fought games in a three-day span, Florida will have four days off before trying to perform the feat again next weekend in a pair of home games. UF will host South Carolina on Thursday at 9 p.m. (ESPN2) before Vanderbilt comes to town for a 1 p.m. game Saturday on CBS.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press