Bulldogs all too glad to see reeling Gators

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 1:19 a.m.

It was a game about two landings - Lawrence Roberts landing in Rick Stansbury's lap in Starkville and Christian Drejer landing on his back in Nashville.

With Roberts, the transfer from Baylor, Mississippi State is the best team in the SEC. The Bulldogs had the guard play coming back but Roberts adds a different dimension and is the front-runner for SEC player of the year honors.

Without Drejer, Florida was awful.

The fall against Vanderbilt last Saturday night knocked Drejer out of Wednesday's game and it left Florida looking very average. If that.

It's not that Drejer had been playing lights out, just that he had been playing. Without him and with Billy Donovan juggling his lineup and rotations, the Gators looked lost on defense and disorganized on offense.

Drejer might not have made a difference in a win or a loss, but it's difficult to believe Florida would have not been in the game at all in the second half.

"Christian would have really helped," said guard Anthony Roberson. "We really could have used him. He's going to have to fight through this injury."

Drejer could have played Wednesday night, but chose to sit it out. Donovan pointed out that it's different with a European player. He should know because he once had a player refuse to let back surgery keep him down.

Against Mississippi State, Drejer sat on the bench in a long-sleeved Florida T-shirt. Which meant he had one fewer rebound than Bonell Colas, who played 21 minutes.

Because this wasn't just about Christian Drejer.

It was about Florida's frontcourt players offering little opposition to the Bulldogs. With David Lee double-teamed, nobody stepped up to offer a scoring presence, let alone anything resembling defense in the paint. As a result, MSU dominated the boards and scored 44 first-half points despite making only two shots longer than four feet.

It was about foolish decisions on passes that led to 15 turnovers. Lee Humphrey got his first start and threw the ball away the first time he got his hands on it. It went downhill from there.

It was about a pair of gambles. Donovan decided to stick with the press, which made sense because the Bulldogs are not a deep team. But the press led to too many easy baskets.

The other gamble involved Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State's coach. He left Roberts in the game with two fouls in the first half. Roberts responded with eight points during a stretch that saw the Bulldogs go on a 16-6 run and take a nine-point halftime lead.

It was about the Bulldogs, blown out the last two times they came to Gainesville, blowing out Florida. The 11-point final margin was hardly reflective of the dominance.

It was about MSU racking up 19 assists.

"More assists than turnovers here," said Stansbury. "That's probably a first in the history of Mississippi State."

It was about Florida's freshman class going 0-for-Wednesday.

Mostly, it was about two teams heading in different directions. The veteran Mississippi State team is two seconds away from being unbeaten this season. Florida has lost two straight in humiliating fashion.

"We've got a lot of figuring out to do," Donovan said.

Certainly, it's not too late for the Gators too stop the oil from leaking. Getting Drejer back will help. But as fans rushed for the exits with four minutes to play as if they were on the Titanic, this looked like a beaten team.

"It was a frustrating game," said Matt Walsh, "from start to finish."

Unless you were wearing maroon and white. This Mississippi State team would have been very ordinary if the tragedy at Baylor had not happened and Roberts had not shown up. But with his 21 points and 14 rebounds against Florida, you saw how good the Bulldogs can be.

"We're a very balanced team," Stansbury said.

He never dreamed it would be as easy as it was Wednesday night. It's never supposed to be easy at the O'Connell Center.

"We probably caught them on a bad night," he said.

As Stansbury finished his post-game news conference, his youngest son, Noah, shoved a pair of statistical sheets in the coach's face.

It was the most defense he'd faced all night.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on WGGG 1230-AM in Gainesville and WMOP 900-AM in Ocala.

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