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Saturday January 26, 2013Gators Move to 6-0 in SEC Play with Blowout Win at Mississippi State

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- We can go on and about the Florida Gators playing such a numbingly, frighteningly efficient level of basketball right now. The reasons are multiple. Offense, defense, rebounding, passing, effort, intensity ... yes, all that.

But this team also listens to its coach.

And learns from past experiences.

"We didn't want what happened the other night to happen again," junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said of UF's stumbling start Wednesday night at Georgia. "We wanted to be aggressors and the team that came out with the energy."

Jumping on Mississippi State for a 21-point lead midway through the first half -- at a venue that has been a house of horrors for some very good Florida teams over the years -- definitely met the criteria. The Gators never let up, either.

Seniors Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton scored 18 points each, accounting for eight of UF's season-high 14 3-pointers, and set in motion an 82-47 flattening of the Bulldogs in front of instantly subdued crowd of 5,667 at Humphrey Coliseum.

Wilbekin had 13 points and nine assists, while center Patric Young threw in 13 more on 6-for-6 shooting to go with six rebounds. For the game, UF shot 55.4 percent, including 64 in the second half, while holding MSU to just seven field goals and 29-percent shooting in the tone-setting first half.

"We wanted to get a lead and keep it," Boynton said.

They kept it, all right. Built on it, too. The end (and quick) result was a game that was void of drama almost from the git-go.

For the Gators (16-2, 6-0), the win was their eighth straight, plus fifth in a row on the road, and kept UF tied with Ole Miss for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings. The 35-point margin was Florida's largest of the season in league play, where its closest game was Wednesday's 17-point win at Georgia.

UF trailed that game by nine in the first half and three at the break, but seized control instantly out of the locker room.

The Gators didn't wait until intermission this time.

"It's always tough to dig yourselves a hole on the road," Coach Billy Donovan said. "I was encouraged to see our guys come out with a better start."

Florida had beaten Georgia by 33 points two weeks earlier and Donovan pounded at his players about the pride and passion the Bulldogs would want to fight back with. And did.

A lot of his talking points were similar for Mississippi State (7-11, 2-4). This batch of Bulldogs had lost three consecutive SEC games by wide margins and had a chance to show some mettle against a top-10 team.

They did. For about two minutes.

MSU led 4-3 when Boynton hit a 3-pointer at the 17:33 mark. Less than four minutes later, the Gators led 17-6 and Boynton and Murphy had 15 of those points.

Boynton's third trey of the half made it 27-8 at the 10-minute mark, and despite a sloppy stretch of four turnovers in five possessions, the Gators closed hard to lead 41-19 at halftime.

It was the seventh time this season a UF opponent was limited to 20 points or less in the first half.

"We got the big lead and stayed on them, stayed focused on playing each possession," Wilbekin said. "We didn't really look at the scoreboard a whole bunch."

Neither did the home crowd, mainly because it rarely changed on the MSU side. When the final horn sounded, UF had held a 10th opponent under 50 points and the Gators had their first win at "The Hump" since 2007.

Boynton went 7-for-11 from the floor and 4-for-6 from distance. Murphy made six of his eight field attempts and went 4-for-6 from the arc, too. Wilbekin's offensive game continued to expand, with drives, jumpers and three of five 3-pointers to compliment his overall floor game.

"I thought we were really unselfish," said Donovan, who also got four assists from forward Will Yeguete and three from guard Mike Rosario. "We moved and passed the basketball and really got some good open looks throughout the course of the game."

Yeguete and guard Michael Frazier each grabbed eight rebounds off the bench, as the Gators crushed the Bulldogs on the boards 44-20.

Defensively, the SEC's top-rated team was terrific again, holding Mississippi State to just 32.7 percent for the game and surrendering no 3-pointers for the first 28 minutes. Two of the Bulldogs top three scorers, guard Jalen Steele and forward Roquez Johnson, were completly shut down, combining to go 0-for-8 from the floor for zero points 

Count first-year MSU coach Rick Ray among the UF believers.

"I think Florida is by far by the best team in the SEC and I'd venture to say they're probably playing better than anyone in the nation at this point in time," Ray said. "They have the best players in the SEC and the most talented players in the SEC, but their willingness to share the basketball is by far their best attribute."

The Gators have now won their six conference games by an average of 26.5 points.

"Obviously, we're playing well. We've won eight straight," Murphy said. "But you saw early in the season, you can slip up. Every game is a new game, so we prepare for every game as a new game and keep our focus. Anything can happen. You can see that just by looking at what's going on in college basketball. We just need to keep doing what we're doing."

Sounds an awful lot like what his coach would say; except for perhaps that last remark.

Donovan won't settle for the Gators doing what they're doing.

"I'm looking to improve from one game to the next and just trying to get better," he said. "We did a much better job from start to finish in this game."

But there's plenty more to work on.

 

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