Gators overcome deficit to squeeze past the Bulldogs
GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Mike White has his first winning streak in Southeastern Conference play.
He got a little help from Mississippi State down the stretch.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 20 points and 13 rebounds for his third straight double-double, KeVaughn Allen added 19 points and Florida beat Mississippi State 81-78 Tuesday night.
John Egbunu chipped in 16 for the Gators, including all four of his free throws in the final 2 minutes.
“I thought he showed a lot of mental toughness,” White said.
The team did, too. Florida (12-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half and won back-to-back league games for the first time this season. The key stretch was a 24-5 run midway through the second half that turned a 56-45 deficit into a 73-65 advantage.
Finney-Smith, Allen and Egbunu came up big in the huge spurt.
Finney-Smith finished with his fourth double-double in the last five games. Allen, a freshman, topped his season average (11 points) for the sixth time in the last eight outings. Egbunu was even more clutch, scoring six points in the final 3 minutes of a back-and-forth game.
The Bulldogs (7-10, 0-5) lost another close one and fell to 0-5 in league play for the first time since 1986. Four of those five losses have been by six points or fewer.
“It’s getting old that, ‘Hey, we were right there and we’re not getting it done,’” Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said. “We’ve got to get over the hump here.”
I.J. Ready led Mississippi State with 20 points, including 16 in the first half. Craig Sword added 17, including 15 after the break.
The Bulldogs had all the momentum in the closing minutes, but were doomed by bad shots — Aric Holman’s missed 3-pointer with a little more than a minute to play and then Travis Daniels’ missed jumper in the final minute.
“We took a couple of questionable shots with the lead,” Howland said.
Despite those, Mississippi State took the lead on Sword’s driving layup with 48 seconds remaining, but Florida went back in front when Egbunu hit two more from the charity stripe.
Still, State had a final chance.
Florida’s Justin Leon missed two free throws, keeping it 79-78 with 18 seconds to play. Ready dribbled across midcourt, started to drive into the lane, pulled up from about 12 feet and hit the back of the rim. Florida came down with the rebound, and Allen sank both on the other end to put the Gators up 81-78.
“We were fortunate to outscore them tonight,” White said. “We caught a couple breaks. I thought Mississippi State had a couple of opportunities late. If a couple of those fall for them, we’re sitting here with an L.”
Mississippi State: Has dropped six in a row in the series. ... Sword and Ready each went 7 for 16 from the field. ... Hasn’t won in the O’Connell Center since 2008.
Florida: Extended program’s streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 815. The run began in 1992. ... Again played without forward Alex Murphy (foot) and center Schuyler Rimmer (back). Murphy has misses six of the last seven games. Rimmer has sat out seven of nine.
Mississippi State’s big men were in foul trouble most of the night.
Leading scorer Gavin Ware fouled out with 5:30 remaining. He had five points, the first time in 17 games he failed to reach double figures. Fellow forwards Johnny Zuppardo and Aric Holman also picked up five fouls. Together, the three played 42 minutes and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Mississippi State hosts rival Mississippi on Saturday.
Florida hosts Auburn on Saturday.