No. 24 Florida suffers first road loss at Mississippi State
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Florida survived Mississippi State's torrid early start from 3-point range.
Yet that season-long albatross — free-throw shooting — caught up to the Gators in a 71-64 loss to the Bulldogs at Humphrey Coliseum.
Groundhog Day is Wednesday, but the Gators appear content to re-live the same ending over-and-over again. On Saturday, Florida missed its final four free throw attempts in the final 3:32 to finish 9-for-19 from the free-throw line.
"It is really frustrating," Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We had a great opportunity to come out here and get a road win in the conference. We shot ourselves in the foot by not hitting shots from the free-throw line. We just did not play well at all. If we make our shots, it totally changes the complexion of the game."
During one killer stretch, with the score tied at 64, senior center Vernon Macklin was fouled and missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 2:45 left. Parsons grabbed the rebound off the Macklin miss, which led to senior Alex Tyus going to the line after he was fouled on a put-back attempt. But Tyus missed both free throw attempts with 2:36 left.
Overall, Florida's all-senior starting frontline of Macklin, Tyus and Parsons went 2-for-10 from the line.
"You would hope that our seniors in that situation — 2-for-10 for the game — those are kind of the guys you want at the free-throw line at the end of the game, your older guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Instead, Florida stumbled in the clutch. And there were no perimeter shots to save them. Florida was equally cold from the perimeter, missing its final seven attempts. After Kodi Augustus made 1-of-2 free throws with 2:06 left to put Mississippi State up 65-64, junior point guard Erving Walker missed a 3-point attempt. Florida still trailed just 65-64 after Mississippi State sophomore forward Renardo Sidney missed an inside layup, but Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton followed with a missed mid-range jumper with 1:06 left.
"I felt like guys had really, really good looks during the course of the game in areas of the floor where you want them to shoot the ball," Donovan said.
Tyus then fouled Augustus on a drive to the basket, and Augustus made both free throws with 34.1 seconds to extend Mississippi State's lead to 67-64. On Florida's next possession, Boynton was called for a double-dribble with 23 seconds left.
Augustus and Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost made four straight free throws the rest of the way to send Florida (16-5, 5-2 SEC) to its first road loss of the season. Florida dropped to 5-1 on the road. Mississippi State also snapped Florida's nine-game, regular-season winning streak against SEC West opponents.
Walker led Florida with 18 points and 4 assists. Macklin added 10 points, and Parsons had 9 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists.
Bost led four Mississippi State scorers in double figures with 24 points. Sidney and Augustus each added 16 points for the Bulldogs (11-9, 3-3 SEC).
Mississippi State made five of its first eight 3-point attempts to jump to a 25-15 lead. But the Gators rallied back, taking a 38-36 lead on a Macklin jump hook in the lane with 3:39 left in the first half.
Florida trailed 40-38 at the end of the half and fell behind 51-42 with 16:43 left early in the second half on a Bost 3-pointer. Again, Florida battled back. Back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore forward Erik Murphy and Walker put Florida ahead 53-52. Walker then capped the 13-1 Florida run with a pair of free throws to extend Florida's lead to 55-52 with 12:19 left.
But signs of trouble started when Walker missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 4:11 left and Florida trailing 64-63. The Gators would score just one more point the rest of the game. Florida struggled the majority of the game from the field, shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent (5-of-21) from the 3-point line. Boynton, in particular, had a rough afternoon, going 2-of-11 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities to put points on the board," Donovan said.
At this point, Donovan said he doesn't have too many other options to put on the floor in late-game situations. Asked about Murphy, who shoots a team-best 81.8 percent from the free-throw line, Donovan responded: "Murphy was out there some, but you also have to worry about defense, too. He had a hard time guarding Sidney and Augustus."
Donovan said he also thinks it would be harder to turn to Murphy to score in the post late in games.
"I don't know if Erik has that same kind of post up ability or even Will (Yeguete)," Donovan said. "So it's kind of a catch-22 for us a little bit, it's a tough situation. Vernon has made some, but this was a game where he didn't make them."
But it's clear that free throw shooting is a season-long problem that won't go away. Florida, which entered Saturday shooting 66.2 percent from the free-throw line, has missed 38 free throws (9.5 per game) in its past four losses. Florida has shot 58.7 percent (54-of-92) in its four losses.
"I wish we had an answer," Parsons said. "It's just something we need to focus on collectively, as a group, to try to get better."
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.