January 26, 2013 10:20:37 PM
STARKVILLE - Every member of the Mississippi State University men's basketball team found out Saturday night the University of Florida was everything they're not this season.
Yes, the Gators (16-2, 6-0 in Southeastern Conference) are nationally ranked at No. 8 in the country with All-American candidates in guard Kenny Boynton.
Boynton led UF to a dominating 82-47 victory Saturday night in front of an announced 5,667 fans at Humphrey Coliseum as the senior guard topped all scorers with 18 points.
Florida has a deep rotation they can count on with eight different players making a basket in the first half of the blowout victory in Starkville. MSU has just a total eight-man rotation that includes six scholarship players.
"I don't think we competed the way we needed to compete tonight," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "After the Arkansas game where we turned it over 29 times, to me if that's not a wake up call that you need to play a different way then I don't what will do it."
Boynton was able to knock down perimeter shots over the MSU zone defense while being able to physically overmatch sophomore Trivante Bloodman for easy looks.
Florida has size with Young and senior forward Erik Murphy, who were able to out rebound the Bulldogs (7-11, 2-4) 44-20 and 12-6 on the offensive end. Murphy, an inside-out 6-foot-10 forward would finish with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting. MSU has only one player in its rotation that is primarily considered a low post threat and that freshman is named Gavin Ware and the 270-pounder did have his eighth double-figure scoring output at 10 points but just three rebounds Saturday night.
10 minutes in the contest, Florida was defeating MSU on the boards by a 15-2 margin and 7-0 on the offensive end while the Bulldogs tried to manage any defensive momentum with 6-foot-3 Tyson Cunningham as the power forward during a stretch.
"I think we were just a little bit bigger than them and we should get rebounds consistently as long as we're in correct position," Murphy said.
The Gators have a legitimate point guard in junior Scott Wilbekin and the 6-foot-2 guard finished with six assists in the first half and nine total throughout the evening. It took the MSU squad, which struggled with Florida's full-court pressure, over 12 minutes to record its first assist as a team and relied on freshman Craig Sword, playing out of position due to injuries, to jumpstart any offensive rhythm whatsoever.
With only two of Florida's first eight players in the game being freshmen, the No. 8 Gators have the experience and veteran leadership needed to possibly win the league and make another deep run into the 2013 NCAA Tournament under a veteran coach like 17-year veteran Billy Donovan. MSU is in year one of a frustrating transition season under Rick Ray, who had never been a head coach at the Division 1 level before this season.
So when MSU would eventually break the frantic press but then take a contested 20-foot jump shot with more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock, all Ray could do is shake his head and hope his players learned from its seventh loss of 15 points or more.
"They have best players in the SEC, the most talented players in the SEC but their willingness to share the basketball is by far their best attribute and our team needs to learn from that," Ray said. "We're just a selfish basketball and then we're not defending because we are so wrapped up in our offense."
Florida showcased its unselfish nature by having 15 assists on 20 made field goals with just over 16 minutes left in the game. At that point the Gators extended its lead to 53-21 causing many at Humphrey Coliseum to find the exits and wonder why MSU had only three total assists.
The Gators proved its ability to hit long jump shots with multiple players. Florida set a season-high with 10 minutes left in the game with its 12th converted three-point field goal in the evening. Florida finished 14-of-31 from beyond the three-point arc, which represented only its fifth game with double-digit three-point baskets. When asked after the game how Florida had so much success from the three-point arc, the Bulldogs coach looked down and said simply 'they were wide open'.
MSU couldn't make a shot from beyond the three-point arc until Colin Borchert found the shooting stroke on back-to-back jumpers to cut the deficit to 67-40 with just over eight minutes left.
The only MSU player with any previous experience against Florida couldn't find any success early on as junior Jalen Steele missed his first four shots and didn't get in the scorebook for the first time this season. The Knoxville, Tenn., native didn't record a single point, which represented just the fourth time he was held below double digits since breaking his right wrist in early November. It was just the sixth time of his career that he's been held scoreless as it occurred just twice last season.
"We wanted to put Boynton on (Steele) because if you look at the three freshmen of Ware, Thomas and Sword, it's hard in this league for freshmen to absorb that many minutes," Donovan said. "The guy that adds a different element to their team is Steele. The biggest thing we tried to do is make him play on the bounce."
Fred Thomas led the MSU offense with a game-high 19 points and seven steals in 25 minutes of action.
MSU's struggling offensive effort became the 10th opponent under 50 points this season as the Gators arrived in Starkville allowing opponents to just the nation's third-best 51.4 points per game.
MSU will next be on the home floor Wednesday when they host Texas A&M University as the Aggies make its first trip to Humphrey Coliseum (8 p.m., CSS).
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