Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators go up big only to survive late against Mississippi State

By OnlyGators.com Staff
January 24, 2024
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators go up big only to survive late against Mississippi State

Image Credit: UAA

It was not so much a tale of two halves as it was the middle 20 minutes against the opening and closing 10 minutes on Wednesday night. The Florida Gators played quite well on either side of halftime but struggled mightily after the opening tip-off and ahead of the final whistle. Ultimately, Florida prevailed 79-70 over the Mississippi State Bulldogs to improve to 13-6 (3-3 SEC) on the season.

Let’s take a look at what went down at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

It was over when … junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. hit two free throws to put the Gators ahead by 12 points with 34 second to play. Florida made 10 of 11 free throws over the final 92 seconds and 13 of 14 in the second half with the lone miss coming by sophomore G Riley Kugel on the front end of a one-and-one.

The Gators led by as many as 17 points three times in the second half, but the Bulldogs used a full-court press and a 10-0 run over 2:30 to cut their deficit to seven points with 4:34 remaining. Junior G Will Richard hit a 3-pointer to end that stretch, but it remained a fight down the stretch as Florida missed 9 of 10 field goals — every shot besides the Richard triple — over the final 6:41.

First half focus: Mississippi State jumped on top early thanks to a 9-0 offensive rebounding advantage, but Florida used an 8-0 run to take its first significant lead of the game with 7:44 until the break and held it all the way through halftime. Richard began his resurgent performance — after some recent struggles — scoring 18 of the Gators’ 43 points in the opening period.

Exceptional efforts: Richard finished with a game-high 23 points on 4 of 7 shooting from downtown coming one rebound shy of a double-double after grabbing nine boards. Clayton and redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin contributed 15 points and five rebounds each, while redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel contributed 12 points and eight boards.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 68-53 all-time against Mississippi State with a 42-13 record in the O’Dome and 3-1 mark since 2022 … the Gators are now 12-2 under head coach Todd Golden this season when leading at halftime, 12-1 when leading with 5 minutes left, 13-0 when outshooting an opponent from the field and 9-1 when outshooting an opponent from downtown … in a rarity, Florida was bested in the paint with Mississippi State holding a 46-51 rebounding edge (22-15 offensive) and 36-28 scoring advantage … MSU also bested UF scoring off turnovers (12-8), on second chances (16-14) and off the bench (40-8) … the Gators’ 85% free throw shooting (17 of 20) was its second-best mark of the season and best against a power conference opponent

What it means: The struggles down the stretch were disappointing given how well Florida played across the 10 minutes on both sides of halftime. The Gators looked unprepared for the press, and they were simply unable to find the bottom of the basket during the game’s closing stretch. Still, a win is a win, and the Bulldogs had a similar record entering the game, so it was a commendable victory for UF.

What’s next? Florida will remain in Gainesville for its first homestand of the SEC slate as it hosts rival Georgia on Saturday at noon ET in a game that will air live nationally on ESPN2. Golden is 2-0 against former Gators coach Mike White, and Florida has won eight straight in the series since 2020.

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