STARKVILLE – The energy was flowing, the shots were falling, and that most valued of commodities – “grit,” as coach Rick Stansbury calls it – was ever present.
All the qualities that had been lacking in recent games were abundant for Mississippi State on Wednesday, as it broke out of a slump with an 80-71 win over Florida before 6,151 fans at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Gators couldn’t stop State on the inside or on the perimeter. Center Jarvis Varnado scored 15 points, and guard Ravern Johnson added 13. Guard Barry Stewart added 12.
Ten different players got in the scoring column to help the Bulldogs (18-12, 8-7 SEC) snap a three-game losing streak and extend Florida’s skid to three games. One game after getting shut out, MSU’s bench added 26 points.
“We came with passion today and won,” Varnado said.
That passion was apparent during the pregame introductions, which looked more demonstrative than on Saturday, when State was drummed by Auburn, 76-58.
That energy carried over into the game, as State took an early 7-2 lead – just like it did against Auburn. But this night had a different feel to it, and the Bulldogs kept the energy level up.
MSU closed the first half with a 10-3 spurt to grab a 42-33 lead. It never trailed in the second half and led by as many as 16 points.
That margin was reached on a Johnson 3-pointer, and Florida (21-9, 8-7) got no closer than six the rest of the way.
“The thing tonight I thought our kids did, we played with some emotion, and we played with great effort,” Stansbury said. “When you do all that, sometimes it clears the mind of the cobwebs.”
It worked for Johnson, who shot just 3 of 13 against Auburn, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range. Against Florida, the sophomore made 5 of 8 overall and 4 of 7 from deep.
“I’ve been thinking about my shot a lot, been trying to figure out what I’ve been doing wrong,” Johnson said. “I just came out tonight not worrying about that and just shot the ball.”
MSU shot 50.9 percent for the game, including 50.0 percent (10 of 20) from 3-point land. Florida was 44.6 percent overall and 28.0 percent (7 of 25) behind the arc.
“I thought their 3-point shooting and our 3-point shooting was probably the biggest difference in the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
State won the battle on the boards, 38-34, for just the third time in SEC play. Varnado led all players with eight rebounds.
MSU’s win was tainted by an injury to Elgin Bailey, Varnado’s backup. He suffered a severe dislocation of his right ankle in the second half and is out for the year.
MSU now turns its attention to rival Ole Miss. A win in Oxford on Saturday would give the Bulldogs the No. 3 Western Division seed for the SEC Tournament.
“If we come together like this,” Varnado said, “we’ll be really hard to beat.”
Brad Locke/Daily Journal