BULLDOGS: Defense finally rears head against Gators

By Brad Locke / NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State still isn’t a great defensive team, but it did hold Florida without a field goal the final 5 minutes, 16 seconds of Saturday’s 71-64 win.
The Gators missed their final eight field-goal attempts and didn’t do much better at the free-throw line, making only 1 of 6 over the final 4:35. For the game, Florida shot 39.7 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent (9 of 19) from the free throw line.
“We got great looks, the shots weren’t falling tonight, especially from the free-throw line,” Florida forward Chandler Parsons said.
The Gators had been getting into the lane almost at will, in particular point guard Erving Walker, which was a big reason Florida had 38 points in the paint. But Walker settled for several 3-point shots late in the game.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury thought his team did well against the screen and roll plays, and big man Vernon Macklin (10 points) was rather quiet.
“We’re just out there scratching a little bit right now,” Stansbury said. “We’re trying to hide some things and do some other things the best we can. But I thought we guarded Florida, with where we’re at defensively, about as well as they could be guarded.”
Florida’s 64 points tied for the fewest given up by MSU in SEC play this season. It was the sixth time this year that the Gators have scored 64 or fewer points.
Finding ways
• As teams have tried to take away Ravern Johnson’s 3-point shot, he’s been finding other ways to score. He had 15 points Saturday while making just one 3-pointer; he was 5 of 12 from the field overall.
Johnson, a senior who earlier in the season led the SEC in scoring, is starting to come out of a prolonged slump. He’s averaging 17.0 points over his last four games while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.
He’s not made more than two 3-pointers in a game since Dec. 18 against Virginia Tech, 10 games ago.
“Every team guards me with their best defender, trying to play tough with me,” Johnson said. “So I know I’ve got to go to the boards and try to get rebounds and score like that, or going to the rim and going to the line.”
Johnson made all four free throw attempts against Florida and is 15 of 18 there the last four games.
Scoreless bench
• MSU got zero points from its bench despite some golden chances to score around the basket. Wendell Lewis, John Riek and Jalen Steele were a combined 0 of 6 from the field.
But they made contributions elsewhere. Steele had two big steals in the second half, one of which led to a go-ahead bucket by Renardo Sidney. Lewis and Riek combined for five rebounds.
MSU’s bench is averaging 9.3 points per game in SEC action.
Quotable
• “Hopefully we can just keep winning and playing hard, keep getting better. This is a start.” – MSU guard Dee Bost
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
or brad.locke@journalinc.com.