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No. 8 Florida blows out MSU

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE --Every member of the Mississippi State University men's basketball team found out Saturday night the University of Florida is everything it isn't this season.  

 

Yes, the Gators (16-2, 6-0 in Southeastern Conference) are nationally ranked at No. 8. They also have All-America candidates in guard Kenny Boynton and center Patric Young.  

 

Boynton lived up to his billing, scoring a team -high 18 points to lead Florida to an 82-47 victory Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 5,667 at Humphrey Coliseum. 

 

Florida showcased its depth, as eight players scored in the first half of the blowout. MSU has an eight-man rotation that includes six scholarship players.  

 

"I don't think we competed the way we needed to compete tonight," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "After the Arkansas game where we turned it over 29 times, to me if that's not a wake-up call that you need to play a different way then I don't what will do it." 

 

Boynton knocked down perimeter shots over the zone defense and physically overmatched sophomore Trivante Bloodman for easy looks.  

 

Florida has size with Young and senior forward Erik Murphy, who outrebounded MSU (7-11, 2-4) 44-20, and 12-6 on the offensive end. Murphy, an inside-out 6-foot-10 forward, had 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting. MSU has only one player --Gavin Ware -- who is considered a low-post threat. The freshman standout from Starkville High School had 10 points but just three rebounds. 

 

Ten minutes into the game, Florida had a 15-2 rebounding edge, including a 7-0 edge on the offensive end. The Bulldogs tried to gain defensive momentum with 6-3 Tyson Cunningham as the power forward during a stretch.  

 

"I think we were just a little bit bigger than them, and we should get rebounds consistently as long as we're in correct position," Murphy said.  

 

The Gators have a legitimate point guard in junior Scott Wilbekin. The 6-2 guard had six assists in the first half and finished with nine. MSU, which struggled against Florida's full-court pressure, needed more than 12 minutes to record its first assist. It relied on freshman Craig Sword, playing out of position due to injuries, to jump-start any offensive rhythm whatsoever.  

 

With only two of Florida's first eight players in the game being freshmen, the No. 8 Gators have the experience and veteran leadership needed to win the league and to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament under a veteran coach like 17-year veteran Billy Donovan. MSU is in year one of a frustrating transition season under Ray, who had never been a head coach at the Division 1 level before this season.  

 

"Rick Stansbury did a phenomenal job here for 14 years and really did an incredible because back when he was here and it was divisional play, they were competing for a divisional championship every single year," Donovan said. "With Rick leaving, Rick Ray comes in with a lot to rebuild but the greatest compliment I could give another coach is when you watch another team is to see how hard Rick Ray's kids play." 

 

When MSU broke the frantic press, it had the habit of taking a contested 20-foot jump shot with more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock. The shot selection left Ray shaking his head and hoping his players learned from their seventh loss of 15 points or more.  

 

"They have best players in the SEC, the most talented players in the SEC, but their willingness to share the basketball is by far their best attribute and our team needs to learn from that," Ray said. "We're just a selfish basketball team, and then we're not defending because we are so wrapped up in our offense." 

 

Florida showcased its unselfish nature with 15 assists on 20 field goals with more than 16 minutes left in the game. At that point, the Gators extended their lead to 53-21, causing many at Humphrey Coliseum to find the exits and wonder why MSU had only three assists.  

 

"I just really didn't know all of them could shoot like that," Sword said. 

 

The Gators proved their ability to hit long jump shots with multiple players. Florida set a season-high with its 12th 3-pointer with 10 minutes left in the game. Florida finished 14 of 31 from 3-point range, only its fifth game with double-digit 3-pointers. When asked after the game how Florida had so much success from the 3-point arc, Ray looked down and said, "They were wide open." 

 

MSU couldn't make a shot from beyond the 3-point arc until Colin Borchert found the shooting stroke on back-to-back jumpers to cut the deficit to 67-40 with a little more than eight minutes left.  

 

"We wanted to get out to a hot start and so Murph hit early shots and I just followed," Boynton said. "I think Patric Young did a really good job finding open shooters from the post." 

 

The only MSU player with any experience against Florida couldn't find any success early. Junior Jalen Steele missed his first four shots and didn't score for the first time this season. It was the fourth time he was held below double digits since breaking his right wrist in early November, and just the sixth time of his career he has been held scoreless. It happened twice last season.  

 

"We wanted to put Boynton on (Steele) because if you look at the three freshmen of Ware, Thomas, and Sword, it's hard in this league for freshmen to absorb that many minutes," Donovan said. "The guy that adds a different element to their team is Steele. The biggest thing we tried to do is make him play on the bounce." 

 

Fred Thomas led MSU with a game-high 19 points and seven steals in 25 minutes. 

 

MSU's 47 points marked the 10th time Florida has held an opponent under 50 points this season. The Gators arrived in Starkville third in the nation in scoring defense (51.4 points per game). 

 

MSU will play host to Texas A&M University at 8 p.m. Wednesday (CSS).

 

 

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