Once again the Florida Gators started slow on the road but used a strong second half to down the Mississippi State Bulldogs 62-51. It was the #3 Gators 12th consecutive victory and continues their unbeaten start (7-0) in conference play.
As has been their m.o. playing on the road, the Gators started slow in the first half, allowing the Bulldogs to hang around. The SEC’s 2nd leading three point shooter Michael Frazier started slow as well going o-6 from beyond the arc. But largely on the strength of a 7-0 run the Gators built a nine point lead 27-16 by the under 4 minute time out. Mississippi State then went on a 8-0 run to close the half and the Gators’ lead dwindled to one at 27-26.
It appeared to be a somewhat lackadaisical effort by the Gators in the first half as the Gators were beaten to loose balls and contested rebounds and repeatedly beaten by drives to the lane. The Bulldogs at times appeared to be a step quicker to the basket than the normally sound Gator defense and offensively the Gators simply missed easy baskets in the lane which is important to do on the road.
“I thought we got spread out a little bit in the first half I thought some,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “It really was a game in my opinion that I thought offensively both teams had plays around the basket to finish to make, and both teams did not do a great job around the basket. There was a lot of missed lay ups by both teams.”
They also missed some great open three point looks particularly during that Bulldog run to close the half.
“We got up by nine there towards, right under the 3:40, four minute time out,” Donovan continued. “And it was probably to be honest with you a little bit of a fraudulent nine point lead because they missed a lot of shots. And then all of the sudden we get a truck load of really good looks by Frazier and by Wilbekin closing out that half and we missed them all. We didn’t close the half great”
As usual, though, the Gators made some halftime adjustments which helped them take the lead for good in this one. Defensively, they did a much better job closing down the lane keeping them from easy lay ups and foul shots, something they didn’t do very well in the first half.
“We got too gapped and too spread out (in the first half),” Donovan said. “And then I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job of closing down alleys and gaps and we didn’t really let them get to the basket.”
They also did a better job of getting the ball inside to Patric Young who had a great game finishing with 12 points on 6-11 shooting. The game actually started on two quick Young baskets in the paint and it was obvious that the Bulldogs had little answer for his power and strength under the basket.
“We got him off to a really good start, I thought in the game,” Donovan said. “The first four points was scored by him. We ran a play and kind of rolled him to the basket and we got him deep post position and we found him he made a lay up inside. Scottie came off of a wing pick and roll and Ware was kind of back leveling. He got caught in a tough situation, Pat’s rolling and Scottie found him. Then he picked up his second foul in seven minutes.”
However, he quickly got two fouls and sat the rest of the first half finishing with only 7 minutes. It was obvious the plan in the second half was to reestablish that power inside game with Young.
“I thought in the second half we needed to get him involved,” Donovan continued. “We tried to go to him and just get him some post touches and then I think once he got that dunk and then he scored on another play it kind of helped us where we had a little bit more balance inside and out.”
The other big story for the Gators was the slow shooting start for Michael Frazier who went 0-6 from three before finally draining a basket. He hit three consecutive baskets in the second half finishing with 9 points on 3-9 shooting from outside the arc but they were all clutch sparking the Gators to a big second half lead and ultimately the victory.
“I thought in the second half he made a couple of big threes for us that really stretched our lead out,” Donovan said. “And there was certainly one big one I think maybe inside a couple of minutes to go we ran some action and we got it thrown back to him and he made a three by our bench that took the lead from nine to twelve and it kind of stayed there. But I was happy the way he responded shooting the basketball with a level of confidence maybe moreso than in the first half.”
Donovan, for his part, never wavered on giving the Frazier the green light to shoot the three despite his struggles. After the game Donovan mentioned that sometimes Frazier lets misses get to him more than he should and needs to work through that.
“When he’s open I want him shooting,” Donovan said. “I really do. I thought he had four great looks, I thought he let the game come to him. And I thought again for him and this is something he’s got to get over, he has about as much guilt when he misses an open shot of any player I’ve ever coached. It internally affects him in a negative way. And he’s got to move past it.”
He continued shooting until his shot came to him and he responded big time in the second half as the Gators coasted to victory at the end. The Gators were led by forward Casey Prather who had 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the floor. The Bulldogs had no answer for his quickness and athleticism as he appeared to get to the basket at will on backdoor cuts and put backs.
It wasn’t one of the prettier games for the Gators either offensively or defensively but more importantly they won another tough SEC road game. With the victory, the Gators moved to 18-2 on the season and 7-0 in conference play. Next up for the Gators is a three game home stretch beginning on Saturday against Texas A&M. Tip off is scheduled for 4 pm eastern and will be broadcast by the SEC Network.