Second-ranked Gators set to chomp on struggling Bulldogs
Gainesville, FL (Sports Network) - With a 10-game win streak now over, the second-ranked Florida Gators return to the friendly confines of the O'Connell Center to play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in SEC action on Saturday.
Billy Donovan's Gators climbed all the way to the second spot in the national polls thanks to a flawless run through their conference slate heading into the week. However, Florida's wave of momentum came to a screeching halt with Tuesday's shocking 80-69 loss at Arkansas. Despite the loss in Fayetteville, Florida remains atop the SEC standings at 8-1. The Gators are a perfect 10-0 in Gainesville this season.
Rick Ray's first season in Starkville has lacked a great deal of success, with Mississippi State sitting at a less than desirable 7-14 overall. That record includes a 2-7 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs haven't won a game in nearly a month and have dropped seven straight since mid-January, including a 93-73 blasting by rival Ole Miss on Wednesday.
The Gators easily disposed of the Bulldogs in Starkville back on Jan. 26 and the 82-47 decision was the largest margin of victory for Florida in the series. With the win, Florida moved to 59-49 all-time against Mississippi State.
Wins have been hard to come by for MSU this season mostly due to a lack of offensive firepower. The Bulldogs are among the nation's worst scoring teams, entering the week ranked 308th nationally at a meager 61.6 ppg. The team has struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor, delivering on just 40.9 percent overall, 28.3 percent from behind the arc and 66.6 percent from the free-throw line. The only Bulldog averaging double figures at this point is Fred Thomas, who is netting 10.6 ppg, with the majority of his work coming from off the bench. Three others are averaging over nine points per game for MSU in Craig Sword (9.9 ppg), Roquez Johnson (9.5 ppg) and Jalen Steele (9.3 ppg).
The Bulldogs fell behind early and although they competed throughout, couldn't cover the ground in the loss to the Rebels this week. Sword led three Bulldogs in double digits with 17 points. Steele poured in 15, while Thomas added 13. MSU held a slight edge in terms of rebounding (38-35), but was outscored 27-14 at the free-throw line.
Arkansas led from start to finish, handing Florida its first conference loss of the season this week. The Razorbacks took a 43-26 lead into the break and saw the lead balloon to 27 points in the second half, before settling in for the victory. The usually stifling Florida defense allowed the Hogs to shoot .491 from the floor in the game, far and away the worst defensive performance of the season for the Gators. Mike Rosario led the way in defeat with 15 points. Scottie Wilbekin added 14, Michael Frazier finished with 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench and Kenny Boynton chipped in with 10 points.
The defensive numbers on the season have been far more impressive for Florida, which is holding foes to just 52.4 ppg and .367 shooting, both figures ranking in the top-5 nationally. The Gators are a dangerous offensive squad as well, shooting .492 from the field and putting up 73.8 ppg. Four of the five starters average double figures, led by Boynton's 13.2 ppg. Erik Murphy is a close second at 12.7 ppg, followed by Rosario and Patric Young at 12.2 and 11.0 ppg, respectively.
02/09 11:19:33 ET