By The Associated Press
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State’s lineup told the story.
The Bulldogs played with six scholarship players and two walk-ons at No. 2 Florida on Saturday. The result was predictable.
Mike Rosario scored 18 points, Erik Murphy added 17 and the Gators bounced back from a humbling loss earlier in the week to thump short-handed Mississippi State 83-58.
The game looked every bit like a matchup of the Southeastern Conference’s best and worst teams.
Then again, it wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the 35-point beatdown Florida handed Mississippi State on its home court two weeks ago.
“We gave them too many points off turnovers; that continues to be a problem for us,” said Bulldogs coach Rick Ray, whose team has lost eight in a row. “I thought we were a lot better in the second half.”
Mississippi State (7-15, 2-8) played without guard Jalen Steele, who didn’t make the trip after being suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
It was a big blow for a team already down three players.
Freshmen Andre Applewhite and Jacoby Davis are out for the season with knee injuries, and senior Wendell Lewis is sidelined with a fractured right patella.
So the Bulldogs came to Gainesville with a less-than-ideal roster, not the best scenario when you’re trying to upset the league’s highest-ranked team.
It showed on the scoreboard.
Florida took a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Michael Frazier II had a lot to do with it, hitting his first three 3-pointers.
The Gators made it 36-18 on Murphy’s baseline hook shot with 4:27 remaining before halftime. Murphy finished 7-of-10 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
The game really got out of hand after the break.
Florida, which led 42-26 after 20 minutes, scored the first 10 points of the second half. Scottie Wilbekin hit a 3, Kenny Boynton made a layup, Rosario hit a pull-up jumper and Murphy drained another from behind the arc.
Everything went right for the Gators.
Gavin Ware led the Bulldogs, who have lost eight in a row, with 16 points. Colin Borchert added 14 and Trivante Bloodman chipped in 10.
“It’s really hard to take a loss,” Borchert said. “We fought hard and we are a no-excuse team.”
praise from ray
After the game, Ray praised walk-ons Baxter Price and Tyson Cunningham. They combined to miss all four shots, but gave the Bulldogs valuable minutes.
“You look at their stat line and it doesn’t look very appealing,” Ray said. “But Baxter Price goes out there and he’s constantly moving and cutting and getting the ball to Gavin. And then Tyson Cunningham did the same thing. We just need more guys willing to accept a role like that and get the ball inside and just move the basketball.
“We’re so much better when we do that.”
Florida showed its flaws in a loss to Arkansas on Tuesday night.
Center Pat Young picked up two early fouls, forward Will Yeguete injured his knee, Murphy struggled shooting and turned the ball over four times, and Wilbekin took 15 shots for the second consecutive game.
Throw in Arkansas’ hot-shooting start, and the Gators trailed by 20 points in the early going and never recovered.
On Saturday, they looked much more like the team that won 10 straight before that 80-69 loss to the Razorbacks.
One difference was that Wilbekin started the game on the bench.
“Just did not respond well at all in practice,” coach Billy Donovan said. “No energy. No enthusiasm. Tried to talk to him. Didn’t get much of a response. And again, wasn’t a bad attitude. Wasn’t like he wasn’t trying. Wasn’t like he quit. Just not his normal Scottie Wilbekin self in practice. And it continued Friday.
“I just told him, I said, ‘Listen, we’re coming off of a tough loss against Arkansas. We need energy, passion, and if you’re not going to play with passion, I’m going to start somebody else.”’