Fastbreak: Florida Gators hang on to escape Mississippi State 81-78

By Adam Silverstein
January 20, 2016

Tuesday was yet another up and down night for Florida Gators, which fell behind by double digits to the worst team in the Southeastern Conference only to hold on for an 81-78 victory at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

Florida (12-6, 4-2 SEC) somehow found a way to hit free throws when it mattered, capitalizing on its hot three-point shooting and overcoming a propensity for turnovers that plagued it throughout the game. The win kept Mississippi State (7-10, 0-5 SEC) at the bottom of the league, which made it a wonder how the Bulldogs were even in the game with the Gators in the first place. breaks down Tuesday’s win with eight quick-hitters:

It was over when: Redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu came through in the clutch for the second time this season, hitting four-straight free throws to overcome a pair of one-point deficits for Florida in the final minute of the game. Aside from Egbunu’s made free throws, UF went just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe over the final six minutes of the game, leaving a ton of points at the line that would not have put a win in nearly as much jeopardy. Egbunu finished with 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds and hitting 8-of-12 attempts from the line.

Still up and down at the stripe: For the second-straight game, poor free throw shooting from a pair of players ruined a tremendous effort to improve at the line for the rest of the team. Freshman C Kevarrius Hayes and junior forward Justin Leon combined to go 1-for-8 from the line (with six of those attempts coming in the final six minutes), while the rest of the Gators finished a very respectable 19-for-25.

Hot from downtown: Also one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, Florida has seemingly found its stroke from beyond the arc. The Gators went 9-for-21 from three on Tuesday, making them 20-for-41 (.488) over the last two games. Particularly impressive has been freshman guard KeVaughn Allen, who was 3-for-7 from deep Tuesday and is now 9-for-14 over the last two contests. He finished second on the team with 19 points to go along with five boards.

Keeping up the pace: Redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith had yet another strong outing, posting a double-double in his third consecutive game and fourth time in his last five contests. Finney-Smith posted a team-high 20 points, going 6-for-11 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line with 13 rebounds. Uneven much of the season, he’s shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from beyond the arc over his last four games.

Early struggles / late surge / later near-collapse: Going back-and-forth Mississippi State in the first half, Florida gave up a 13-1 run that the Bulldogs used to end the half with a five-point lead. Despite going 6-for-12 from three over the first 20 minutes, UF went 5-for-11 from the line and committed nine turnovers that resulted in a ton of points for MSU.

The Gators utilized a 13-2 run to tie the contest at 58 with 12:44 to play and extended that stretch to 24-5 with another 11-0 run to go from down 11 to up eight against the Bulldogs. Florida looked to have things figured out until it suddenly went absolutely cold, failing to score on six-straight possessions while missing four field goals and four free throws over a span of three minutes.

Major key alert: The stat of the game was Mississippi State’s ability to force 15 Florida turnovers and score 20 points off those miscues. The Gators were not nearly as proficient defensively as they have been in other contests this season, forcing just eight Bulldogs turnovers and only posting six points off those mistakes. UF missing nearly one-third of its 33 free throws, coupled with it giving so many extra scoring opportunities to MSU, kept this game way closer than it should have been.

Everything else: Mississippi State saw three players foul out, including F Galvin Ware, who scored a season-low five points after posting double digits in every contest prior to Tuesday … Florida sophomore F Devin Robinson continued his even-handed play, hitting both threes he attempted to finish with 11 points … sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza did not see much action down the stretch after taking an ill-advised three and committing three turnovers to five assists; instead, it was junior PG Kasey Hill who saw more court time even though he was just 2-of-9 with four dimes and two turnovers … despite going an extended length of time fighting back from behind, UF led for 20:12 of the 40-minute game

Up next: Florida will look to keep its winning ways going against Auburn (and new Tigers coach / old Gatos foe Bruce Pearl) on Saturday at 8 p.m. The game will air live nationally on SEC Network. UF has not won three-straight SEC games in over a year.

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