No. 15 Florida survives Mississippi State upset bid
No. 15 Florida survives Mississippi State upset bid
- No. 15 Florida survives Mississippi State upset bid
Published On: Sat, Feb 18
Feb 14, 2015; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Southern Miss Golden Eagles head coach Doc Sadler watches his team play against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first half at Reed Green Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Kevarrius Hayes has a new increased role and he performed it well on Saturday.
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The sophomore is Florida's new starting center and he scored the decisive points and followed that with a crucial defensive play to help the No. 15 Gators escape with a 57-52 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday in SEC play at Starkville, Miss.
Hayes moved into the starting role after junior John Egbunu suffered a season-ending knee injury in Tuesday's victory over Auburn. He looked comfortable against the Bulldogs as he contributed nine points, a career-high 10 rebounds and four blocked shots as Florida (22-5, 12-2 in the SEC) won its eighth straight game.
"He was flying around, playing with crazy energy," Gators coach Mike White said. "He would have played more minutes, of course, if he didn't find himself in some foul trouble.
"Kevarrius plays hard as anyone on the floor. He was terrific for us."
Junior point guard Chris Chiozza scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen added 11 points for Florida.
Sophomore guard Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 17 points for the Bulldogs (14-12, 5-9), who lost their fourth straight game and sixth of their last seven. Mississippi State has dropped seven straight games to Florida and 17 in a row to ranked teams.
"We're right there against really good teams," Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said. "We need to get over that hump."
A put-back by Hayes gave Florida a 54-52 lead with 1:57 remaining. Hayes then rejected a game-tying shot by Mississippi State senior point guard I.J. Ready with 30 seconds left.
The Gators made 3 of 6 free throws over the final 28 seconds left to seal it.
Florida won despite shooting only 38.5 percent from the field and committing 16 turnovers.
"We'll take them how we can get them, as long as we're playing the right way and playing really hard and playing for each other," White said. "It was a struggle offensively. We never found a great offensive rhythm.
"But defensively, after an emotional week after the huge letdown with John Egbunu being done for the season. ... For these guys to defend at the level they did on the road is something that you can only be proud of."
The Bulldogs had their own issues by shooting 36.1 percent from the field, including 2 of 23 from 3-point range, and 6 of 13 from the foul line.
"We had an opportunity to knock down wide open shots," Howland said. "I got to think at least 8-to-9 of them were wide open."
The Gators led by eight points at halftime before Mississippi State moved to within three in the first two minutes of the second half.
Florida answered with nine consecutive points and a jumper by senior point guard Kasey Hill made it 43-31 with 13:13 to play.
A short time later, Weatherspoon scored five straight points to start a 10-2 push that cut the deficit to four with 5:51 remaining.
The Gators increased their lead to seven before Mississippi State made another charge. The Bulldogs went on a 9-2 burst, with sophomore forward Aric Holman delivering a dunk to tie it 52-52 with 2:23 remaining.
Florida played poorly most of the first half but took a 32-24 lead at the break.
Mississippi State missed all 13 of its 3-point shots in the half and was only 2 of 7 from the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs scored the first five points and held a 13-7 edge less than eight minutes into the contest. The Gators inched ahead by one point on two occasions before a steal, and fast-break hoop by Weatherspoon gave Mississippi State a 19-18 lead with 5:15 to play in the half.
Florida controlled the next five minutes, with Chiozza scoring seven points during a 14-3 burst as the Gators opened up a 10-point lead. Holman converted a put-back with 0.5 seconds left to account for the halftime score.
NOTES: Gators sophomore C Kevarrius Hayes drew the start for injured junior C John Egbunu (season-ending knee injury) and stood out while playing 25 minutes. ... Bulldogs freshman G Lamar Peters made Mississippi State's first 3-pointer with 18:17 left in the game. ... Florida senior PG Kasey Hill scored nine points to become the 52nd player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. He had one assist to move into a tie for second place on the school's all-time list with Ronnie Montgomery (503 from 1984-88). ... Mississippi State freshman G Mario Kegler had only four points on 2-of-7 shooting after averaging 15.8 points over the previous four games. ... Florida senior G Canyon Barry (ankle) was injured late in the contest but coach Mike White doesn't think it was serious.
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