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 with center Patric Young.
But by the end of Saturday afternoon's game against the Gators, it was junior forward Eric Murphy that had Stansbury raving. Murphy was 4-of-7 from 3-point range (14 points), including some 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 nine of his last 12 games.
"The difference, and I told Billy 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 tonight 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 Patric Young, whose monster dunk off a rebound ignited the crowd and the Gators. Young struggled in the first half against MSU's 6-foot-10, 285-pound center Renardo Sidney, but his adjustments in the second half were critical for the Gators.
Florida was outrebounded by the Bulldogs 34-26, but forced Mississippi State into 14 turnovers (to Florida's five) and outscored MSU 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.''