By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State was able to hold its own against No. 3 Florida on Thursday night.
After getting blown out by the Gators at home by 35 last season, the Bulldogs kept things close and held the lead on four different occasions. But SEC-leading Florida proved to be too strong in the second half, pulling out a 62-51 victory.
“I thought in the first half we did a good job of competing,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “I was really proud of the group that was in there to end the half. They ended the half with six consecutive stops and were doing a good job against an obviously quality ballclub. In the second half (Florida) shot 56 percent from the field and we gave up too many timely offensive rebounds.”
MSU ended the first half on an 8-0 run to trail only 27-26 but surrendered seven offensive rebounds to Florida which led to 11 second-chance points.
The Gators (18-2, 7-0 SEC) finished the game shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Bulldogs by eight.
Casey Prather paced Florida with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting while Patric Young added 12 points.
“We needed to play harder,” Young said. “We didn’t need to play to (Mississippi State)’s level. No disrespect to Mississippi State but they’re probably not winning the SEC championship this year and we have an opportunity to do that. We needed to play to the championship caliber level like we’ve been doing all year.”
Thursday’s loss marks the first time this season the Bulldogs (13-7, 3-4) have dropped back-to-back games. State shot 42.6 percent from the field but was just 1 of 6 from the free throw line.
“I don’t want to say this is now a moral victory, because you went from being blown out the two times we played Florida to actually being competitive against Florida,” Ray said. “I don’t look at it that way, but obviously anybody can see we’ve made improvement.”
Colin Borchert led the Bulldogs with 15 points including three 3-pointers. Craig Sword finished with 12 points and I.J. Ready chipped in 10.
MSU will make a quick turnaround, with a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 4 p.m.