Gators Win Their Second Straight, Defeat Mississippi State, 71-68

On Tuesday night, The Florida men’s basketball team (12-6) was able to close its match up against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-10) strongly, ending the game on a 6-2 run to pick up their 12th victory of the season, winning 81-78. Dorian Finney-Smith recorded his fourth double-double of the season, scoring 13 of his 20 points in the second half, while adding 13 rebounds. Other Gators in double digit scoring included John Egbunu with 16 points, 13 of which came in the second half, KeVaughn Allen with 19 and Devin Robinson with 11 on 4 of 6 shooting. Florida coach Mike White discussed Finney-Smith’s efficiency, and how he’s led the team on the floor. The game marked the first time in 28 days that the Gators have won back-to-back contests.

I.J. Ready led the Bulldogs with 20 points on 7 of 16 shooting, but 16 of his points would come in the first half. Craig Sword also played strongly for Mississippi State putting up 17 points and six rebounds.

While the Gators started the game only 5 of 11 at the free throw line, they would go 15 for 22 in the second half, helping them to close out the game. Florida outshot Mississippi State from beyond the arc, 43% to 29%, with both teams going 45% from the field, despite the Bulldogs taking nine more shots than the Gators. Florida outrebounded Mississippi State 45-33, while grabbing 12 offensive boards. Both teams scored 30 of their points in the paint, while the Gators edged the Bulldogs in fast break points, 15-2. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith talked about how the Gators have been shooting with confidence as of late.

Mississippi State was able to keep the game close off of Florida’s 15 turnovers, which the Bulldogs would turn into 20 points. While MSU turned the ball over eight times, it only led to six Florida points.

Both teams struggled offensively early, with Mississippi State leading 9-6 after the first five minutes. Coach White explained how he thought the Bulldogs got off to a hot start.

While the Gators shot a better percentage than the Bulldogs through the first ten minutes, Florida’s six turnovers, turning into nine points for Mississippi State, gave Florida a small, four point lead.

Jan 19, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Kasey Hill (0) takes a shot as Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Aric Holman (right) defends in the second half at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The Florida Gators won 81-78. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 19, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Kasey Hill (0) takes a shot as Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Aric Holman (right) defends in the second half at Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Florida Gators won 81-78. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Kasey Hill’s shooting has been poor this season, averaging 34.6% from the floor, but his dunk with 9:05 left in the first half got the Rowdy Reptiles off their feet and back into the game. Hill had one of his better first halves of the season, putting up four points, two rebounds and two assists. The dunk also started off a 6-2 run for the Gators, giving them a 26-20 lead with 6:23 left in the first half.

I.J. Ready was the star of the first half for the Bulldogs, scoring over a third of their points, putting up 16 and fueling a 13-1 run to end the half. A Fred Thomas three-pointer as time expired would give Mississippi State a 42-37 lead after the first 20 minutes.

While the Gators shot a better percentage in the first half than the Bulldogs from both the floor (48%-46%) and beyond the arc (50%-42%), Florida’s nine first half turnovers, leading to 14 Mississippi State points, was the leading factor for the Gators’ blown lead.

Another reason for Florida’s blunder at the end of the first half was their inability to shoot free throws, as they haven’t been able to all season. The Gators ended the first 20 minutes shooting 45.5% at the charity stripe, while the Bulldogs shot 83.3%. Florida’s only other first half advantage was on the boards, a category they’ve been phenomenal in all season. The Gators outrebounded the Bulldogs in the first frame, 19-17, including four offensive rebounds.

KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson led Florida in first half scoring with eight points and three rebounds each. Finney-Smith led the team on the boards, grabbing five rebounds to go along with seven points.

Finney-Smith got out to a hot start in the second half, scoring Florida’s first five points. Following that strong start though, the Bulldogs would go on an 8-3 run to go up by nine with 16 minutes left in the contest.

With 15:30 left in the game, Mississippi State would take their largest lead of the game, going up by 11 after a midrange jumper from Johnny Zuppardo.

When it seemed like Florida was down and out after going down double digits, Coach White would fire up his team, taking a 30-second timeout to reassess his game plan. Following the break, the Gators would go on a 15-5 run to reduce the Bulldogs’ lead to only one point with 11:35 left in the contest. In that span, Florida would go an unheard of 6 of 6 at the foul line, their longest consecutive streak of makes on the season.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s solid second half would continue, including a sequence of a jumper, pair of free throws and layup to give the Gators’ their first lead since the first half, putting them up by six with 8:36 left in the game. Florida would then tie their largest lead of the game, going up by eight with 6:30 left in the game after a KeVaughn Allen jumpshot.

The Bulldogs would get back on track after Allen’s jumpshot, going on a 7-0 run to bring it within one with 3:31 left in the contest. During the course of that run, five missed free throws by Florida would lead to a momentum swing in Mississippi State’s favor.

With 2:23 left, a layup from I.J. Ready would give the Bulldogs their first lead since the 11:47 mark in the second half.  The game would go back and forth until the end.  With 10 seconds left and the Gators up by one, Justin Leon missed both free throws to give the Bulldogs the ball back. I.J. Ready’s floater would fall short, with KeVaughn Allen coming up with the rebound. Allen would knock down both free throws to put the Gators up by three. Mississippi State would have a chance to inbound the ball with 1.3 seconds left, but would throw it out of bounds, ending the game, and giving Florida the 81-78 victory.

The Gators are off until Saturday, when they’ll take on the Auburn Tigers (8-8) at 8 P.M. at the O’Connell Center. Auburn is coming off of two strong wins against the Kentucky Wildcats and Alabama Crimson Tide. Coach Mike White discussed how his team will get ready for the Tigers.


PHOTO GALLERY: For a full photo gallery from tonight’s game, click here.

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