Prather, Gators run past Bulldogs 62-51
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:59 p.m.
Before Thursday night's game at Mississippi State, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he felt the key to the game was keeping the Bulldogs off the foul line.
Texas A&M at No. 3 Florida, Saturday at 4 p.m.
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Basketball beat writer Kevin Brockway was unable to attend the game in Starkville, Miss., due to weather-related travel issues. He spoke with Florida coach Billy Donovan following Thursday's game.
The No. 3 Gators accomplished that mission, overcoming some rocky scoreless stretches in the first half to beat Mississippi State 62-51 at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
Coming into the game averaging 27.2 trips to the free-throw line at home, Mississippi State went to the line just six times against UF's fundamentally sound, experienced defenders.
Donovan said he thought the Gators struggled closing up driving lanes in the first half before regrouping defensively in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought in the first half we didn't do a great job with it,” Donovan said by phone shortly following the game. “They got some drives in transition, they beat us on isolation plays. And then I thought in the second half we did a better job of shrinking the floor and closing up some of those lanes.”
The Gators (18-2, 7-0 SEC) won their 12th straight and closed out January with an 8-0 record. Florida has won 21 straight January games dating back to a Jan. 7, 2012 loss at Tennessee.
But this one didn't come easy. Florida led just 27-26 at halftime. Up 27-18, the Gators went scoreless during a 5:38 stretch at the end of the first half, missing their final seven shot attempts. Sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II missed all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half and the Gators shot just 37 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
“I really felt like coming down the stretch we had some great looks,” Donovan said. “Frazier missed three wide-open 3s. Scottie Wilbekin had a 3 that rattled in and out. I would be a little more concerned if we weren't getting good shots. … That stretch we just had some shots that were in-and-out, missed some layups, missed some plays around the basket.”
Florida senior center Patric Young hit two inside baskets early in the second half, which helped restore UF's momentum. From there, Florida built its lead to as many as 13 points in the second half and held on late.
Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with a team-high 16 points, scoring in double figures for the 18th time in 18 games this season. Young added 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, overcoming early foul trouble to finish with a strong game and both ends of the floor.
“It's been on my mind to just play within myself and be aggressive when I get the ball in the paint,” Young said in a release. “My coaches and teammates are always telling me to go when I get the ball. I just try to go up there and take a good rep. I would've tried to make a few more of them, but we came out with the win and that's all that matters.”
Wilbekin added eight points and eight assists for the Gators. Florida outrebounded Mississippi State 38-30 and scored 14 points off turnovers.
The Gators won despite a poor shooting night from both the 3-point line (6 of 20, 30 percent) and free-throw line (8 of 19, 42.1 percent). Donovan said Prather tweaked his ankle after taking a spill on the floor in the first half. While Donovan didn't consider Prather's injury serious, he said it may have contributed to his free-throw shooting woes (2 of 7).
“That was disappointing,” Donovan said. “I think that's a focus thing to me. I think when you have a team that's proven that they can shoot free throws … the seniors, they need to do a better job.”
Junior forward Colin Borchert led Mississippi State (13-7, 3-4) with 15 points. The Bulldogs dropped to 11-2 at home. After the game, second-year Mississippi State coach Rick Ray refused to consider it a moral victory, even though the Gators beat the Bulldogs by 35 points at home last season.
The Gators carved up Mississippi State's defense, finishing with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 14 to 9.
“They are a model of unselfishness, sharing the basketball, and passing the basketball,” Ray said. “They are also the best team defensively in the SEC if you look at the statistics.”
With the win, the Gators improved to 18-1 in Thursday-Saturday SEC turnaround games and will face another one when they return home Saturday to face Texas A&M. Tip time is 4 p.m. at the O'Connell Center and the game is sold out.
“We just have to get guys recuperated and feeling a little bit better,” Donovan said. “Like anything else, I think when you come out of a game there's always some kind of residual effect mentally and physically, and we've got to move past that and get ready to play A&M.”