Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators blow massive lead but survive at Mississippi State

By OnlyGators.com Staff
January 21, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators blow massive lead but survive at Mississippi State

Image Credit: UAA

If it’s not one problem, it’s another for Florida Gators basketball. Florida gave away a 16-point lead before ultimately pulling away by the skin of its teeth Saturday night with a 61-59 win while visiting the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi.

While the Gators did not trail over the final 38:01 of the game, they allowed the Bulldogs back into the game three times in the second half, seeing one double-digit lead erased and another reduced to a single basket. Florida opened the contest shooting better than it has in eons but saw its defense lapse in the latter period as Mississippi State outscored the visitors 42-28 over the final 22:32. (UF was outscored 7-0 to end the first half and 9-1 to end the second.)

What went down as the Gators won for the fourth time in their last five games? Let’s take a look with some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … Mississippi State missed two point-blank shots in the paint as the game’s final seconds ticked away. Florida did not make a basket over the last 3 minutes, going 0 of 4 from the field with all its attempts being contested, low-percentage shots. The Gators also would have given away their final possession had it not been for a well-called timeout by head coach Todd Golden to avoid a backcourt violation.

The Bulldogs used an extended 23-7 scoring stretch spanning halftime to erase the visitors’ game-high 16-point lead and tie the contest with 12 minutes to play. Florida went 3 of 14 from the field during over that period, while MSU made six straight shots to put the finishing touches on its comeback. UF responded with guards sophomore Will Richard, sophomore Kowacie Reeves and freshman Riley Kugel all draining key triples as the visitors again jumped ahead double digits. However, Mississippi State went on a 9-1 run that ultimately ended the game, though it was unable to cut its deficit beyond a single basket over the final 88 seconds.

First half focus: Unlike recent games, scoring was not an issue for Florida in the opening 20 minutes. The Gators started with an 11-3 run, making three of its first four attempts from downtown, and led by as many as 16 points with 2:32 until the break. However, Florida only took two shots over the duration of the period as Mississippi State went on a 7-0 run, cutting its deficit to single digits at halftime.

Exceptional efforts: Redshirt senior forward Colin Castleton again stood as the top scorer, posting 13 points, though he did it on an incredibly inefficient 5 of 14 shooting. It was redshirt senior G Kyle Lofton who stood out despite infrequently putting the ball in the hoop. Lofton finished with team-highs of eight rebounds and six assists without a turnover or foul in the game. Richard had the best offensive game for the Gators, draining 4 of 5 attempts from long range for 12 points.

Important injury: Sophomore F Alex Fudge was hit under the basket and shaken up on the first possession of the second half. He had to be helped off the court by a trainer and did not return, likely with a head injury. Fudge had seven points and three boards but also made just 2 of 6 free throws with four fouls in 12 minutes before being sidelined.

Odds and ends: Florida improved to 67-52 all-time against Mississippi State with a 24-36 mark in Starkville, where it had not won since 2017 … the Gators entered averaging 6.0 blocked shots per game, ranking them tied for fifth among Division I teams nationally, but earned just four in the contest … Florida had 16 assists on 23 made baskets … the Gators were dominated in the paint, losing the rebounding (39-35) and scoring (36-20) battles inside … Florida improved to 8-2 when leading at halftime, 11-1 when leading with 5:00 left and 7-1 when shooting 40% or better from downtown … the Gators got a rare victory when being outrebounded (3-7), shooting worse than 45% from the field (3-8) and getting outscored off the bench (3-5) … Castleton drained the second 3-pointer of his career (2 of 28)

What it means: This was a significant Quadrant 1 road win and NCAA Tournament resume builder for a Florida team that has struggled to emerge in its biggest games this season. UF entered 0-6 in Quadrant 1 games, 2-2 in Quadrant 2 and 9-0 in Quadrants 3 and 4. The Gators got back to their high-effort play as evidenced by their success off the fastbreak in the first half and their high assist total. They struggled to keep that play up in the second half, which is why the Bulldogs got back into the game, but UF nevertheless held on for the win. In fact, it’s the first time Florida emerged victorious a single-possession game this season after entering 0-4 in such contests.

What’s next? In the midst of a stretch in which it will play five of seven games on the road, the Gators get a bit of a respite next week. Florida will host South Carolina on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in a game that will air live nationally on ESPN2.

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