Mike White was not happy with Florida’s first-half defense Tuesday night. He gave it a C-minus.
The second half?
What’s lower than an F?
“They had their way with us in every way imaginable,” the Florida coach said.
Florida’s season continued to free fall with a third straight loss, this time blowing a 16-point first half lead with a brutal final 20 minutes of the 78-71 setback to Mississippi State in the O’Connell Center.
After leading by 10 at halftime, Florida was outscored in the second half 43-26.
“We were two different teams out there on the floor,” said senior Kerry Blackshear Jr. “We have to figure out how to be more consistent.”
Florida is now 12-8 and 4-3 in the SEC after its second consecutive home loss. Mississippi State is 13-7 and 4-3. Florida shot 29.6 percent in the second half to Mississippi State’s 60.9 percent.
“Our guys could feel the momentum of the game going our way,” said MSU coach Ben Howland.
The Bulldogs were led by likely first-rounder Reggie Perry, who had 27 points and had as many 3s as he did dunks and layups. Florida never could find an answer for the 6-foot-10 center.
When Perry was not scoring, someone was getting a wide-open 3 in the second half (3-of-5) or driving to the basket for an easy layup.
Mississippi State’s Tyson Carter scored seven straight points during a stretch where the Bulldogs took the lead.
“I’ve done a poor job with this team defensively, to say the least,” said White. “They ran it right down our throats. Our level of pride defensively is different from any team I’ve had.”
Florida was on fire early as Scottie Lewis scored 10 of UF’s first 12 points. In fact, Lewis — who said he was treasuring every moment because of the death of Kobe Bryant — got too excited and had to leave the game just five minutes in to control his heartbeat.
He finished the game with a team-high 17 points and Florida looked as if it was going to roll, leading 36-20 at the six-minute mark in the first half.
But Mississippi State cut the lead to 10 by halftime and Florida’s offense went into one of its patented funks after intermission.
“In the first five minutes, I had a pit in my stomach,” White said. “Our flow was completely different.”
During the first 8:52 of the second half, Florida only made two baskets and had five turnovers, which contributed to the Bulldogs’ rally.
The Gators failed to make a 3 in the second half after making eight in the first half.
“We did a much better job at both ends of the floor in the second half,” Howland said.
Florida, on the other hand, took another step backward in a topsy-turvy season that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“When we’re 100 percent focused, we’re pretty dangerous,” said Lewis.
But here they are, 20 games into the season, and the problems are the same as they have been all season.
“We’re a team that isn’t playing extremely hard right now,” said White.
Florida had four players in double figures with Blackshear getting 13 (on 3-of-10 shooting), Keyontae Johnson 10 and Andrew Nembhard 10.
Nembhard had to leave the game at the end of the first half after stepping on someone’s foot and limping off the court but returned to play 17 minutes in the second half.
After playing four of the last five games at home, the Gators now head on the road for three of the next four games.
The road stretch starts with a game at Vanderbilt (8-11, 0-6 heading into Wednesday’s game at Kentucky) at 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
MISSISSIPPI ST. (13-7)
Perry 9-14 6-7 27, Woodard 6-7 2-2 16, Ado 3-5 0-0 6, Weatherspoon 4-9 4-4 13, Stewart 2-5 0-1 4, Carter 4-11 3-3 12, Molinar 0-1 0-0 0, Oduro 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-52 15-17 78.
Lewis 6-10 2-2 17, Blackshear 3-10 5-8 13, Nembhard 5-12 0-0 10, Johnson 4-8 2-2 10, Locke 2-7 0-0 5, Payne 1-3 0-0 2, Mann 2-5 0-0 6, Glover 3-3 2-2 8, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 11-14 71.
Halftime_Florida 45-35. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi St. 7-12 (Perry 3-3, Woodard 2-2, Weatherspoon 1-2, Carter 1-3, Stewart 0-2), Florida 8-20 (Lewis 3-4, Blackshear 2-4, Mann 2-4, Locke 1-5, Nembhard 0-3). Rebounds_Mississippi St. 30 (Perry, Ado 8), Florida 21 (Blackshear 7). Assists_Mississippi St. 13 (Weatherspoon 8), Florida 12 (Nembhard, Locke 3). Total Fouls_Mississippi St. 14, Florida 14.