STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State battled No. 3 Florida on even terms for a majority of Thursday night’s SEC battle.
The Gators found a second gear late though to pull away to a 62-51 win against the Bulldogs before a boisterous crowd of 7,989.
Florida improved to 18-2 overall and 7-0 in conference play. MSU fell to 13-7 and 3-4. For the Bulldogs, it was their first home conference loss of the season. After dropping Saturday’s contest to Ole Miss, MSU has now lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“In the first half, we did a really great job of competing,” MSU head Rick Ray said. “We ended the half with six consecutive stops. In the second half, they shot 56 percent and we gave up too many timely rebounds.
“We had a plethora of opportunities near the basket in the first half. In the second half, we didn’t get rebounds when we made stops. We are growing up but we still have a ways to go.”
Florida scored the game’s first four points and led until Roquez Johnson scored to tie the contest at 7-all. The Bulldogs grabbed their first lead at 14-13 on a Colin Borchert 3-point basket with 13:30 left in the half.
Turning up the defensive pressure, Florida broke at 16-16 tie with seven straight points. Casey Prather and Kasey Hill scored back-to-back baskets for a 23-16 advantage.
Down nine at 27-18, the Bulldogs held the Gators scoreless over the final 5:28 of the half. I.J. Ready hit a basket to cap an 8-0 run as the half ended with the home team down 27-26.
MSU held Florida to 37 percent shooting in the opening half. On their offensive end, the Bulldogs did not help their own cause by missing five of six shots in the lane from close range.
In the second half, Gavin Ware scored back-to-back possessions to give the Bulldogs brief leads at 28-27 and 30-29.
After Borchert brought the Bulldogs within 33-32, the Gators took control by scoring nine straight points. Florida established an inside presence with Patric Young giving his team a spark near the basket.
brief spurt by the Gators proved to be sufficient as the Bulldogs were held to two field goals over a six-minute stretch.
Florida built the lead to 13 at 55-42 with 6:05 remaining. MSU closed within nine twice the rest of the way but could not maintain a serious threat.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 54 shots from the field (42.6 percent), 4 of 14 shots from 3-point range (28.6 percent) and 1 of 6 shots from the foul line (16.7 percent). The Gators hit 24 of 52 shots from the field (46.2 percent), 6 of 20 shots from 3-point range (30.0 percent) and 8 of 19 shots from the foul line (42.1 percent).
Florida held a 38-30 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had seven assists and 12 turnovers, while the Gators had 14 assists and nine turnovers.
“We have matured a lot,” Ray said. “When you go from a freshman to a sophomore, there is a maturation process. Right now, we know who we are and what we are trying to do. We don’t look at this as a moral victory, but anyone can look at this game and see that we have had some improvement.”
Borchert led MSU with 15 points, while Craig Sword added 12 points and I.J. Ready scored 10 points. Johnson had a team-high eight rebounds.
Florida received 16 points from Prather and 12 points from Young.
MSU hits the road for a Saturday contest at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs and Commodores tip at 4 p.m. from Memorial Gymnasium. The contest will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South.