'Dogs, reality bite UF

Mississippi State dominates, 79-68

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 1:22 a.m.

The last time Florida took the floor at the O'Connell Center, it was the aggressor, forcing turnovers, running the floor and diving for loose balls in a lopsided win over Tennessee.

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Florida's David Lee is fouled by Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts (4) in the first half Wednesday at the O'Connell Center.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun

Florida didn't resemble anything close to the same team Wednesday night.

Taller, stronger, faster and more experienced, No. 19 Mississippi State bullied its way to a 79-68 over the No. 17 Gators, Florida's worst loss at home since a loss by the same score to Ole Miss in the 1998-99 season.

"The reality of our team right now is that we're relying on some young guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And our youthfulness was exposed tonight."

How bad was it? Some of the 12,341 in attendance started leaving to beat the traffic with Florida down 20 at the seven-minute mark in the second half.

Florida (11-4) dropped its second straight, matching a two-game losing streak the team endured against Maryland and Louisville earlier in the season. It was the first Southeastern Conference loss at home, where Florida was 7-1 in league play last season.

"It's frustrating, because we felt this was one like we really needed," said Florida point guard Anthony Roberson, who finished with a team-high 20 points.

Compounding matters was the late scratch of starting forward Christian Drejer, who sat out the game with a bruised back after feeling not 100 percent in the pre-game shootaround. Matt Walsh, at 6-foot-6 moved over to start at small forward for the 6-9 Drejer and freshman Lee Humphrey made his first career start at shooting guard.

With Drejer out, Florida was forced to rely more on its four freshman and they didn't respond. Humphrey, Chris Richard, Mohamed Abukar and Ryan Appleby went a combined 0 of 9 from the floor.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State went inside, with forward Lawrence Roberts leading the way. Roberts, the heralded transfer from Baylor, finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds for his 11th double-double this season. Mississippi State out-rebounded Florida 39-31.

The Bulldogs scored 32 points in the paint and shot 56.3 percent from the field in building a 44-35 lead in the first half.

Mississippi State went inside early and beat Florida down the floor in transition. Roberts, who picked up his second foul with 8.37 to go in the half, remained a force in the post.

Roberts converted his first three-point play on a lay-in inside with 7:17 to go, then was fouled by Walsh as he dunked uncontested to the basket. He converted the free throw that gave Mississippi State a 30-24 lead.

"I didn't want to sub for him and let them get back into the game," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "We played man on defense but doubled with him in the post, which really helped keep him from picking up another one inside."

The Bulldogs scored 32 of their 44 points in the paint and shot 56.3 percent from the field in the first half. Some baskets came inside and others on uncontested layups as Florida had problems with rotations in its press for the second straight game.

"It was a product of us having some bad rotations on the press and it was a product of those guys positing up and scoring," Donovan said. "From the post standpoint, our guys had trouble scoring around the basket. I certainly thought their experience level got us in certain areas."

A long 3-pointer by Roberson with 3.0 seconds remaining pulled Florida to within 44-35 at halftime. But Mississippi State went to work extending the lead.

Winsome Frazier and Shane Powers sank 3-pointers during a 16-5 run to start the second half. Two free throws by Timmy Bowers put Mississippi State up 60-40, and Florida couldn't cut the lead below 10 points the rest of the way.

"We caught them on a bad night," Stansbury said. "We'll hit the road and take it."

You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5054.

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