STARKVILLE — With 2 minutes, 24 seconds left against a top 15 team, Mississippi State pieced together a fluid transition possession ending with an emphatic Aric Holman dunk. The play tied the game at 52, officially erasing what was an eight-point halftime lead for Florida.
MSU did not score after that.
Second-half offensive struggles kept MSU away from a quality win for the third game in a row, falling to No. 13 Florida 57-52 on Saturday. It was MSU’s fourth consecutive loss, dipping the Bulldogs’ conference record to 5-9 after starting 3-1.
“We’re the youngest team in the nation we’re right there with ranked teams,” MSU coach Ben Howland said, “we just need a little bit more to get over the hump.”
Howland and Holman agreed that execution in the halfcourt offense were MSU’s downfall late in the game, after Florida ended the game with
“There’s moments where we need to be under control and relaxed,” Holman said.
Howland added, “One, we were down two, we waited too long to penetrate and ended up taking a bad shot – (Quinndary Weatherspoon) just had to force it up from the corner – that was poor execution. I.J. (Ready’s) block – again, down two with 17 seconds left, coming out of the timeout – we didn’t execute that very well.”
Offense was hard to come by for most of the game – the Bulldogs set a new season low for scoring and the Gators narrowly avoided doing so – but particularly so for MSU from 3-point range. Saturday was the worst 3-point shooting performance of the Howland era at MSU, going 2-for-23.
“When I go back to review the film, I got to believe that six, seven or eight of them were wide open. To shoot 8.7 (percent) from 3 is a killer,” Howland said. He later added, on the offense as a whole, “I was really excited. There were some possessions where we were turning down good shots to get a great shot, and the shots just didn’t fall.”
The 3-pointer was not needed early in the game, as MSU built up to a 6-point lead with most of its points coming in the paint. The Bulldogs registered layups on backdoor cuts and dribble drives while Florida adjusted to life without center John Egbunu, one of the Southeastern Conference’s best shot blockers.
“We had a couple of miscommunications there. We’re forced to play a little bit differently with ball screen coverage because of the personnel,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We’ve had paralysis by analysis at times, in our guys’ defense.”
The loss leaves MSU continuing to search for answers in the final minutes of games. Weatherspoon, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points on 8-for-20 shooting (1-for-8 from 3-point range), downplayed the idea that it was time for one player to take over in crunch time.
“I think we just have to keep playing as a team and knock down some shots,” he said. “If we hit eight or nine of those, I think that’s enough to win tonight.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson