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Gators' inexperience catches up again

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was a little concerned coming into Wednesday night's game at Florida.

The Bulldogs hadn't won in Gainesville since the 1995-96 season and had lost by a combined 58 points in their past two visits to the O'Connell Center.

Stansbury's concerns were unwarranted.

Led by forward Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State dominated Florida for nearly the entire game on its way to a 79-68 win in front of 12,341 at the O'Connell Center on Wednesday night. It was the worst home SEC loss for the Gators (11-4, 2-2 SEC) since a 79-68 loss to Ole Miss in 1999.

"Coming in here, we came in with a lot of confidence, but you can be awful confident and still come down here and get beat here," Stansbury said. "We thought we had a game plan, and I thought our kids came out and executed it with two things you have to have: poise and confidence. "You've got to have toughness to go on the road and win."

Having Roberts, also, doesn't hurt.

The junior transfer from Baylor picked up his 11th double double of the season with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

"He's a great, great player," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He's as good as anybody in this league and probably in the country. He does it all."

It was the second straight game in which the Gators defense failed to contain an opponent, and Florida's starters struggled to play consistently.

"They exposed our youthfulness," Donovan said. "I felt like our guys constantly got exposed. It wasn't like they did anything we didn't know was coming."

The final score doesn't convey how the game really went for Florida. The Gators avoided a total blowout by holding MSU without a field goal in the last 4:48, with most Bulldogs starters having retired for the evening.

After dominating the first half, Mississippi State (15-1, 4-1) took over where it left off in the second. The Bulldogs went on a 16-5 run in the first 4:26 of the second half, hitting six of their first nine shots, to lead 60-40. Mississippi State led by as many as 22 in the second half.

"I just felt like we were in control the whole game, we were able somehow, some way to keep the Florida crowd out of it," Stansbury said.

Mississippi State led 44-35 at halftime, the most points the Gators have given up in a half this season. And it wasn't as if Florida made it very tough for the Bulldogs. Layups generally are high-percentage shots, and that's how most of Mississippi State's first-half points were scored _ 32 of its 44 points came in the paint.

The Gators transition defense was rendered ineffective, as was their press. It wasn't until Roberts hit a 3-pointer with 8:17 remaining in the first half that the Bulldogs scored on a shot outside of layups and dunks. Roberts' basket gave Mississippi State a 24-20 lead it never relinquished.

Meanwhile, Florida's offense struggled under the Bulldogs' stringent man defense. The Gators shot 36.4 percent from the field in the first half (12 of 33) and were 3-of-12 from 3-point range. MSU shot 56 percent in the first half but was just 1-of-6 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs outrebounded Florida 22-14 and outscored the Gators 9-0 in second-chance points.

With its transition defense struggling, Florida scored just four fast-break points compared to 10 for Mississippi State in the first half. Florida shot 38 percent for the game.

"The reality is we're relying on a lot of young guys," Donovan said.

Along with Roberts, three other MSU players scored in double figures: Shane Power (15), Timmy Bowers (13) and Winsome Frazier (17). Guard Anthony Roberson led Florida with 20 points, and David Lee added 11.

Florida played without starting forward Christian Drejer, who had a strained back.

"Christian's a great player and he passes well and gets other players shots, and I think we missed that tonight," said sophomore guard Matt Walsh, who scored 17.

The Gators host Auburn on Saturday and are in danger of dropping out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 90 weeks.

"We've got a lot of figuring out to do," Donovan said. "Our biggest problem right now is we're not having that level of consistency night in and night out."