GAINESVILLE — As he prepared to face Florida on Saturday, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury knew he had to account for Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. And he was well aware of the inside challenge of center Patric Young.
But by the end of Saturday afternoon's game, it was junior forward Erik Murphy who had Stansbury raving.
Murphy was 4-of-7 from 3-point range (14 points), including key shots at critical times in the game, as No. 14 Florida put together a strong late run to defeat No. 17 Mississippi State 69-57 in front of 12,045 at the O'Connell Center.
Murphy has scored in double figures in nine of his past 12 games.
"The difference, and I told (Florida coach) Billy (Donovan) this after the game: Everybody knows Walker and Boynton, and I think we did as good a job as you can do on them," Stansbury said.
"But the guy to me that's the difference in their basketball team is Murphy. He's the one guy that's difficult to defend. He stretches you out. He's that fourth guy out there who can really shoot the basketball. He stepped up there (Saturday) in huge situations and made shots for them."
Florida (17-4, 5-1 SEC) led by seven late in the first half, but the Bulldogs (17-5, 4-3) pulled to within 30-27 at halftime. Leading by two, Florida outscored Mississippi State 7-1, led by Young, whose monster dunk off a rebound ignited the crowd and the Gators.
Young struggled in the first half against Bulldogs 6-foot-10, 285-pound center Renardo Sidney, but his adjustments in the second half were critical for the Gators.
"The ball was right there, and I just threw it down (for the key dunk)," said Young, who scored 10 of his 12 in the second half. "I just got really excited when I threw that down. I've been waiting for a tip-dunk all year, and there it is."
The Gators led 51-44 with 8:17 remaining, then went on an 11-0 run to seal the win. Mississippi State went 4:37 without a field goal down the stretch.
Boynton was held to two points, only the second time this season he finished in single digits, and Walker added 10 on 4 of 10 shooting. But the two combined for nine assists and zero turnovers. Florida freshman Bradley Beal scored a game-high 19.
"I was really proud of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton," Donovan said. "Collectively, all of them did a lot of different things to affect the outcome of the game."
Florida was outrebounded by the Bulldogs 34-26 but forced Mississippi State into 14 turnovers (to Florida's five) and outscored it 28-14 in the paint.
"Like I told my guys, let's give Florida some credit," Stansbury said. "They had a lot to do with why we weren't at our best."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.