GAME NOTES: Continuing their move up the national rankings, the now third- ranked Florida Gators invade Humphrey Coliseum on Thursday night for an SEC showdown with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Billy Donovan's Gators are on a roll, extending their current win streak to 11 games following Saturday's 67-41 rout of Tennessee. Florida hasn't lost since a heartbreaking one-point setback at Connecticut back on Dec. 2. At 6-0 in league play, the Gators sit atop of the SEC standings as the only unbeaten left in conference play.
Rick Ray's Bulldogs have not been as consistent on the season. Mississippi State is a solid 13-6 overall, but league play has resulted in just a 3-3 mark thus far. The Bulldogs had a brief two-game win streak halted on Saturday at arch rival Ole Miss, falling to the Rebels, 82-63.
Florida has won three straight meetings with Mississippi State and now holds a 60-49 all-time advantage. However, MSU has the upper hand at home, with a 31-24 edge against the Gators in Starkville.
The Gators flexed their defensive muscles once again in the recent rout of the Volunteers, limiting Tennessee to a mere 41 points, thanks to a meager 1-of-19 showing from behind the arc. Overall, Tennessee finished the game at just .268 efficiency from the floor, while Florida knocked its shots down at a .481 clip, including .517 in the second half. Michael Frazier II led four Gators in double figures with 17 points. Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points to the cause, while Casey Prather and Patric Young finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
What Florida did against Tennessee has been the norm all season long. The team ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense (58.8 ppg) and 21st in field-goal percentage defense (.388), while also boasting of positive margins in rebounding (+4.8) and turnovers (+2.6). The scoring pool is diverse, with five players averaging double figures. Prather leads the way at 16.8 ppg. Wilbekin (12.5 ppg), Frazier (12.3 ppg), Young (10.6 ppg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10.4 ppg) provide plenty of support.
Mississippi State shoots an efficient .454 from the floor this season and also possesses a balanced attack, that posts 70.9 ppg. Four Bulldogs are currently averaging double digits in the scoring column, led by Craig Sword's 13.9 ppg. Gavin Ware is the team's top frontcourt option, shooting 60.1 percent from the floor and posting 11.0 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game. Colin Borchert (10.4 ppg) and Roquez Johnson (10.0 ppg) round out the top offensive threats on the roster.
The Rebels went up by double digits in the first half and the lead stood the rest of the way, as Mississippi State couldn't dig itself out in a nine-point loss in Oxford. MSU was able to shoot a solid 89-og-20 from behind the arc in the game, but was just 40.7 percent from the floor overall in the loss. Johnson and I.J. Ready were the only Bulldogs to notch double figures in the setback, posting 13 points apiece. Sword was a miserable 2-of-7 shooting and finished with a disappointing four points.
The Rebels have won 11 of their 12 home games this season, but face their toughest challenge to date in Starkville in this one. Florida will once again put the clamps on an opponent with their stingy defensive play and earn yet another win in the SEC.
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