Posted: 8:21 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014
By Andy Hutchins
Florida played ugly basketball in Starkville. But the Gators play ugly basketball pretty well.
The final was Florida 62, Mississippi State 51, but it didn't feel like an 11-point win on Thursday night in Starkville.
The Gators did everything they could to ugly it up, whether that was letting the Bulldogs make a run late in the first half to trail 27-26 at halftime, making just six of their 20 threes on the night, or struggling to an 8-for-19 performance from the free throw line. Mississippi State grabbed a few hustle boards, too — enough for Bob Knight, doing color commentary, and Jimmy Dykes, in ESPN's studio, to grouse about the Gators' effort.
It didn't matter: Florida still got its seventh SEC win, and couldn't even play poorly enough to get this to count as a single-digit win in the end.
Casey Prather led Florida, as usual, with 16 points, and Patric Young joined him in double figures with 12. Both players sat for stretches of the first half — Prather after suffering an ankle injury that sent him to the locker room, Young after picking up his second foul with most of the half left to play — and came out hot in the second period, combining for the Gators' first eight points and 13 of their first 17.
That got the Gators to a 44-34 lead that they more or less maintained for the balance of the game, with Michael Frazier II pumping in three treys for the majority of the points that would come after that juncture. Frazier, Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points, nine rebounds), Scottie Wilbekin (eight points, seven assists), and Kasey Hill (seven points, three assists) all chipped in without reaching double figures on a night when Florida really just needed to be less bad than the Bulldogs.
And, despite the lapses and the misses, the Gators were definitely less bad than the Bulldogs, who shot worse percentages from the field, three-point line, and foul line than Florida did, despite the Gators' off night.
The Gators are going to be less bad than most SEC teams — because they're actually really, really good — and they've now gotten through the portion of their schedule dotted by trap road games, with just three home games standing between the Gators and a 10-0 SEC record heading into a a week that features road trips to Tennessee and Kentucky. None of those road games has produced an easy win, but easy wins are more helpful for fans and coaches with hypertensive tendencies than they are for teams that need to be challenged to really respond.
Florida might not have played with as much obvious desperation as it did in last Saturday's thrashing of Tennessee, but it played with enough to win going away. And if that desperation is finite, I'd much rather the Gators save it for slightly more important contests.