By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Arnett Moultrie has been a dominant force in the post this season, but he doesn’t see himself as the key to today’s game.
If No. 18 Mississippi State (17-4, 4-2 SEC) is to knock off No. 14 Florida (16-4, 4-1), Moultrie said the onus will be on the backcourt.
“They’re a guard-oriented team,” he said of Florida, “so it’s going to be a guard battle.”
The Gators have a strong post presence in sophomore Patric Young, who’s averaging 11.4 points per game. But he’s been battling ankle tendinitis, and Florida has a backcourt to be reckoned with.
Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are the main characters. Boynton leads the team with 18.0 points per game and plays tough defense, while the speedy Walker 40.6 percent from 3-point range while averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 assists per game.
But MSU point guard Dee Bost seems to like the matchup. He doesn’t think UF presents as big a defensive challenge as Vanderbilt’s backcourt. The Bulldogs beat Vandy a week ago.
“One thing about Vandy is they had John Jenkins, a dead-eye shooter, and Florida, they’ve got some shooters, but I feel like we can help off a little bit,” Bost said.
Florida has a quick turnaround, having beaten Ole Miss on Thursday, 64-60. The Gators trailed by 16 points in the first half, but they shot 52 percent in the second half while holding the Rebels to 27.6-percent shooting.
Florida scored 18 points off 14 Ole Miss turnovers.
“These guys battled and showed a level of resiliency, I’ll tell you that,” Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters. “They kept their composure.”
Composure is something MSU has shown this season. It Vanderbilt in overtime in Nashville, and after nearly losing a 12-point lead to LSU in the second half on Wednesday, the Bulldogs made free throws and a big defensive stop to preserve victory.
Florida will test that composure. It averages 81.3 points per game and shoots 48.1 percent from the floor – 40.5 percent from behind the arc.
“You’re going on the road against one of the best teams in the country in Florida. One of the best offensive teams,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “No easy games.”
Despite what Moultrie said, he and the rest of MSU’s frontcourt could – and should – have a big impact on the game. Moultrie averages 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and he’s coming off big back-to-back performances in which he totaled 49 points and 26 rebounds.
“Like Arnett says, it’s going to be a guard game,” Bost said, “but at the same time, we’re going to try to dominate in the post.”