January 31, 2014 10:45:48 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Patric Young gave Gavin Ware a lesson on what it means to be a big man in a power conference Thursday night.
Despite being listed as 22 pounds lighter than Mississippi State's sophomore center, Florida's senior center scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked three shots to lead the No. 3 Florida men's basketball team to a 62-51 victory at Humphrey Coliseum.
Young, who is listed at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, was a dominant post threat and, at times, did whatever he wanted with the basketball, from dunking with authority over Ware, to swatting away drives to the rim. After Florida (18-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) led only 27-26 at halftime, Young increased his intensity after taking the halftime message to heart.
"Play harder," Young said. "Don't play down to Mississippi State's level."
Young said the Gators were intense in the locker room after figuring out they have a chance to clinch the SEC title in the next two weeks.
"No offense to MSU, but they're probably not going to win a SEC title," Young said. "We have the chance to do that this year, and to do that you have to take care of teams like Mississippi State in their place."
Minutes after Young dunked on him and yelled in his ear, Ware's left knee buckled as he made his way down the floor. MSU trainer Scotty Johnson took Ware to the locker room where he fitted him with a knee pad, but he returned to the game hobbled.
After the game, Ray said Ware was "fine" twice.
With Ware not moving well, Young scored on back-to-back possessions. After Florida ran its ball screen, Young sealed his defender and took advantage of mismatches near the goal because MSU was switching on the screen.
"If Gavin is a (mismatch defensively) then we got problems," Ray said.
In a physically demanding game that featured only 28 fouls, Young had his way en route to his eighth double-figure scoring game in the Gators' last nine games.
"We came out with more focus, played harder, and were better connected and more determined," Young said of his team's effort in the second half. "We can't control the ball going in the basket, but we can control our energy on the defensive end of the floor."
Ray hopes Ware, a former standout at Starkville High School, will use Young's performance as a lesson. Ware, who had six points on 3-of-6 shooting against Florida, has scored in double figures twice in the first seven SEC games.
"Offensively, we had our problems," Ray said. "I thought we had a plethora of opportunities in the first half to finish at the rim that we just didn't get done."
In the first half, MSU (13-7, 3-4) forced turnovers and used an 8-0 run to take a one-point halftime lead. However, MSU couldn't maintain its intensity in the second half.
Donovan agreed his team's ability to guard MSU's dribble penetration without fouling was a key to a 12th-straight victory. In six previous SEC games, MSU had shot 52 more free throws than its opponents and had converted 29 more points at the line. MSU attempted a season-low six free throws Thursday, and only one in the second half.
When asked what he took away from the loss, MSU senior Colin Borchert needed to look no further than an 82-47 loss to Florida last year in Starkville. Borchert his open jump shots, including three 3-pointers, to score a team-high 15 points.
"We didn't get blown out," Borchert said. "All of the losses we have had so far have been blowouts. We lost to Ole Miss by 20, to Alabama by 30. We went out and competed. We did not give up, and we kept the other team on their toes. If we can play actively, we can show we can compete with the best. That is the biggest thing that came out of tonight."
Ray wasn't willing to consider the loss a positive, but he feels his team is maturing after seeing it lead the nation's No. 3 team in the second half.
"I don't want to say this is a moral victory, I don't look at it that way," Ray said. "But anybody can see we've improved."
Florida built the lead to 55-42 with 6 minutes, 5 seconds remaining. MSU closed within nine twice, but it couldn't get closer.
MSU sophomore forward Fred Thomas was whistled for two quick fouls and went to the bench with more than 17 minutes left in the first half. He failed to score for the first time this season. His absence on defense contributed to Florida's Casey Prather having a game-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
"With them, it's a nick here and a nick here and eventually you're cut," Ray said. "When you go from a freshman to a sophomore, there is a maturation process. We know who we are and what we are trying to do."
MSU will play at 4 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South) against Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.