GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The safe bet was the University of Florida men’s basketball team would be tired on the back half of a Thursday-Saturday turnaround.
The common fan wouldn’t have thought No. 14 Florida would have its legs after it rallied from a 16-point deficit to win at the University of Mississippi.
All of those assumption were proved incorrect early and often Saturday as Florida dismantled No. 18 Mississippi State 69-57 for its 16th straight win in the O’Connell Center.
“Let’s give Florida some credit (because) they had a lot to do with us not being at our best,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “There’s a reason why they’re ranked 13th in the country (in coaches’ poll). They’re pretty good, and I thought they were really good today.”
Hot shooting has fueled the Gators (17-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) this season, and it was on display against the Bulldogs, as five players combined to hit 11 3-pointers.
“We knew they were capable of that,” MSU freshman guard Rodney Hood said. “They’re shooters from every position. Then they’ll catch you slipping and Patric Young will roll in with a dunk on you.”
Florida freshman guard Brad Beal, who entered the season as one of the nation’s highest-ranked freshman out of St. Louis, had a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers. The scoring output was his fourth-highest production of the season in 32 minutes (one turnover).
“I just can’t get down on myself and think that just because they can just take advantage of me,” Beal said. “You just have to play hard and smart.”
The Gators entered Saturday leading the nation in 3-point baskets made per game. Their ability to hit contested jumpers was a major factor in their 12th win in 14 attempts.
“It’s choose your poison against Florida,” Stansbury said. “They had 11 (3-pointers) in the game. It seemed like 21. They’re so good in those other areas, too, so good off that bounce.”
The Gators went nearly 35 minutes without attempting a free throw, but still dominated points in the paint (28-14). Young, a sophomore center who has been battling ankle tendinitis, came off the bench and was limited in the first half due to the defense of center Renardo Sidney.
However, Young adjusted and scored on easy baskets and dunks in transition that allowed him to finish 6 of 11 from the field for 12 points.
“As big and strong as Sidney is, I thought (Patric) never lost his composure.” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “What happens is when you go put the ball on the floor for your move (Sidney) doesn’t move. It was like going into a wall. Patric did a better job of just catching the ball and going up.”
Arnett Moultrie, the Bulldogs’ John Wooden Award finalist, fouled out with a little more than two minutes remaining. While the junior forward notched his SEC-leading 13th double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) of the season, he was 4 of 10 from the field and had only two rebounds on the offensive end.
MSU (17-5, 4-3) hasn’t defeated a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. Its ranked losses have come to Baylor and to Florida. The Bulldogs are 5-4 against the top 100 teams in the latest Ratings Percentage Index.
MSU again battled depth issues. Point guard Dee Bost had defenders Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Mike Rosario on him all afternoon, and by the middle of the second half Bost’s 39 minutes was a factor in the Bulldogs’ ability to score four baskets in final eight minutes.
“That was key in the game for me because Bost gets 16 (points) per game and the one thing that nobody talks about is his ability to find open guys and make the game easier for everybody else,” Donovan said.
Instead of getting rattled by Florida’s full-court trap, the Gators’ two-man trap out of MSU’s pick-and-roll action forced Bost to pass the basketball late in possessions with little chance of him getting it back before a shot was taken. MSU’s senior Cousy Award finalist had 12 points on seven shots. He had only two points off the break.
“I thought it was all about the tempo and making him exert energy because when he’s penetrating and in rhythm offensively he’s so hard to guard,” Donovan said.
MSU backup point guard DeVille Smith didn’t make the trip after checking into a Jackson area hospital for the second time this season. He is suffering from symptoms of headaches and dizziness. Stansbury said
after the game Smith was still in the hospital Thursday and would not return to the team next week.
Senior shooting guard Brian Bryant added 11 points, and sophomore Jalen Steele added nine, including three 3-pointers.
MSU will have a week to prepare for its next game against Auburn at 3 p.m. Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum.
“This is some of the tougher teams we’re done playing,” Hood said. “We just have to re-focus and get in the gym and get ready for Saturday.”
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