Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators topple Mississippi State with dominant second-half rally

By Adam Silverstein
January 19, 2022
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators topple Mississippi State with dominant second-half rally
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK on Twitter

Florida Gators basketball picked up the type of confidence-building win it badly needed Wednesday night, scoring 23 of the final 31 points in the game to pull off a come-from-behind 80-72 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Despite trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half and eight in the second period, UF battled as well over the game’s final minutes as it has all season.

The Gators entered the game with senior forward Colin Castleton — the team’s leader scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker — sidelined with a left shoulder injury he suffered during practice Tuesday. With Castleton absence and Florida’s bigs facing significant adversity from a sizable Mississippi State team, the Gators used one of their best 3-point shooting efforts of the season to make up the difference.

The end result was a win to which head coach Mike White can point over the next few weeks as an example of Florida stepping up in important areas with the game on the line.

What went down on Wednesday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center? Let’s take a look at some Fastbreak Takeaways from the Gators’ latest win.

It was over when … freshman guard Kowacie Reeves hit two free throws with 1:18 remaining, extending Florida’s lead to a game-high 11 points. After trailing for half the game, the Gators tied it at 52 with 12 minutes to play. However, the Bulldogs immediately responded with a 9-1 run to jump ahead eight. Florida answered with an extended 20-2 stretch over 6 minutes that included a 4-point play by senior point guard Tyree Appleby and 3-point banger by Reeves. That run lasted until the game’s final minute where the teams went back-and-forth before the final buzzer.

First half focus: After an even start for both teams, Mississippi State used a 13-2 run to take a 10-point lead with 3:44 to play. Florida cut into its deficit with consecutive treys from Reeves and Appleby, but the Bulldogs scored six of the final nine points to lead by six at the break. Appleby was aggressive in the half, scoring 13 points on 3 of 5 shooting from downtown, but his aptitude alone was not enough to overcome MSU’s dominance in the paint over the first 20 minutes.

Exceptional efforts: Senior F Anthony Duruji was dominant in the second half, scoring 18 of his Florida career-high 22 points in the latter period. He hit 6 of 8 shots from the field, 2 of 3 attempts from long range and 8 of 9 free throws in an astounding performance. Appleby got most of his scoring done in the first half but finished with 17 points, hitting 4 of 9 shots from beyond the arc and 5 of 6 gimmies while dishing five dimes and coughing up just two turnovers. Reeves went 3 of 6 from long range to post a career-high tying 14 points for the second straight game.

Odds and ends: Florida improved to 66-52 all-time against Mississippi State with a 41-13 mark in the O’Dome and 4-3 record overall under White … the Gators are now 60-3 under White when scoring 80+ points …

Reeves is 6 of 11 from downtown over the last three games … junior center Jason Jitoboh made the most of his 16 minutes; though he committed four fouls, he scored eight points and hit 2 of 3 free throws … Florida shot 41.7% from 3-point territory, it’s second-best such mark this season (42.1% vs. California) … that long-range accuracy allowed the Gators to overcome the Bulldogs’ dominance in the post where they outscored (34-20) and outrebounded (31-23) the hosts … UF led for just 11:38, including the final 4:58

What it means: Florida deserves to feel good after Wednesday’s night performance. Not only did it play team basketball and lock down defensively late in the game, it picked up a Quadrant 2 victory over a Mississippi State team that is expected by most to be an NCAA Tournament team. After a rough 0-3 start to SEC play — all against top 25 opponents — the Gators have proven to be among the cream of the league’s second tier.

What’s next? There will be a great opportunity for Florida to build on its solid play when it hosts Vanderbilt at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday with the game set to air live nationally on SEC Network. It will be the first time the Gators play consecutive games in the O’Dome in more than a month.

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