GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) —Mississippi State knew the challenge at hand prior to a second meeting with No. 2 Florida.
The Bulldogs came ready to battle, competed hard, but did not have enough answers on either end of the floor.
Florida made it a regular season sweep with an 83-58 victory in a Southeastern Conference men’s basketball game played Saturday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Florida maintained sole possession of the conference lead, while moving to 19-3 overall and 9-1 in league play. The Gators bounced back strong from their first league defeat at Arkansas Tuesday night. Meanwhile, MSU dropped its eighth straight, to fall to 7-15 overall and 2-8 in league play.
“I thought we really competed,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “In the first half, we allowed them 16 points off turnovers. You can’t do that against a really good team on the road. If you cut that number in half, you have a single-digit deficit. Then that becomes something you can work with.
“If you fall behind by a large margin, early it becomes a very difficult situation.”
In similar fashion to the Gators’ 82-47 win last month in Starkville, Florida established its dominance early. The Gators built an early 15-10 lead and that stretched that advantage with an 11-0 run.
The Bulldogs answered with back-to-back 3-point baskets from Colin Borchert and Trivante Bloodman to climb back within 10 at 26-16.
The Gators forced a couple of turnovers and strung together the game’s next seven points. MSU struggled on the defensive end, as the hosts hit 16-of-29 first-half shots.
MSU closed back within 13 before going into the break, down 42-26.
“In the second half, we did several things better on the offensive end,” Ray said. “We got the ball inside more and Gavin (Ware) had a great afternoon. When we get ball movement and work through the ball through the paint, we are a much better offensive team. Even though we were down, we kept competing and did some things well.”
The former Starkville native Ware finished with a team-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Borchert followed with 14 points, while Bloodman added 10 points. Craig Sword led the team with eight rebounds. The Bulldogs only allowed five points off turnovers in the game’s final half.
MSU also got a season-high 16 minutes from Baxter Price. The Bulldogs dressed eight players with an indefinite suspension of junior guard Jalen Steele being announced earlier in the day.
Florida scored the first 10 points of the second half to remove all doubt from the contest.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 54 shots from the field (42.6 percent), 6 of 16 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 6 of 12 shots from the foul line. The Gators hit 31 of 58 shots from the field (53.4 percent), 9 of 25 shots from 3-point range (36.0 percent) and 12 of 19 shots from the foul line (63.2 percent).
Florida held a 36-31 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 16 turnovers, while the Gators had 21 assists and eight turnovers.
Florida placed five players in double figures. Mike Rosario scored 18 points, while Erik Murphy added 17 points, Casey Prather added 12 points, Michael Frazier added 11 points and Kenny Boynton added 10 points.
MSU hosts Missouri at 7 p.m. Wednesday. A regional broadcast will be carried by The SEC Network.