Coming into the basketball season I felt that the Gators had a pretty good shot at only losing 1 or 2 games in conference - which included games at Tennessee, at Kentucky, at LSU and at Vanderbilt. As it turns out, I may have been premature in my assessment of the strength of the SEC (I didn't think much of the conference) as the Mississippi State Bulldogs threw everything they had at the #1 Gators last night in Starkville.
The Gators won the game 70-67 despite sloppy play, poor shooting from the field and the FT line, and a pretty inspired performance out of the Bulldogs. This game, like many in the future, proved that no game against conference opponents will be easy, especially when it comes on the road.
The Gators were terrible from the field in the first half, only shooting 34%. Coming in as the nation's leader in this category, Florida had to weather the storm and come out better in the second half - which they did, shooting 50% in the second frame. Overall this was just a tough night from the field as the shots were just not falling and the Bulldogs played strong defense against our lackadaisical guard play.
While being dominated in several other team categories on the night, the Gators did do one thing good: Get to the free throw line. On the game they shot 34 from the stripe, hitting 23, and continually kept the Bulldogs in foul trouble throughout the game. Other than that, though, the Gators were beaten in bench points (33-12), points in paint (26-24) and points off turnovers (18-7).
This game was a learning experience for a team that hasn't been truly tested yet in the SEC. Ole Miss won the 2nd half battle last Saturday, and I would almost go as far as saying that the Bulldogs won both halves last night - a couple pretty good runs were all that kept the Gators afloat last night. This is an alarming trend, and we can clearly see some of the areas that will need to be improved upon.
A win is a win though, and the Gators remain unbeaten in SEC play. However, they will need to avoid performances like this if they want to stay unbeaten and play for a #1 seed in the tourney.
AP Photo/Jim Lyttle