STARKVILLE, Miss. — Florida's hopes of capturing the SEC East crown are over. Their chances of an NCAA Tournament berth may be as well.
The Gators struggled to find any offensive consistency and rarely challenged in the second half of an 80-71 loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
Florida (21-9, 8-7) was 29-of-65 from the field but made only 7 of 25 3-pointers.
"Some of our shots in the first half allowed them to get out in transition," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Their 3-point shooting and our 3-point shooting was really the difference in the game. We had some pretty decent looks but still didn't shoot very well."
Ravern Johnson scored 15 to lead the Bulldogs (18-12, 8-7), putting them back into contention for the third seed in the SEC tournament that begins Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum, and at least an NIT berth, after they had lost five of six. The Bulldogs close out the regular season at Ole Miss on Saturday.
"If we are going to make the postseason, any postseason, we had to win," coach Rick Stansbury said.
If Florida beats Kentucky in its regular-season finale Saturday, the Gators are likely to open the SEC tournament at 9:45 p.m. Thursday as the No. 3 East seed.
After 10 lead changes, Mississippi State ended the first half on a 7-0 run to lead 42-33.
The Bulldogs never trailed in the second half and led by as many as 16.
Mississippi State ended a five-game shooting slump by hitting 50.4 percent of its field-goal attempts, including 10 of 20 3-pointers. The Bulldogs also outrebounded Florida 38-34.
"We had some guys who hadn't shot as well lately," Stansbury said. "When you play with heart and passion, it shakes some of those cobwebs out."
Walter Hodge led the Gators with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Hodge, a senior, has 1,014 points in his career, the 44th Florida player to reach 1,000.