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Mississippi State 71, Florida 68: Close enough for it to hurt

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Florida fought another good SEC team for 40 minutes. And it came up short again, too.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

On another night in a miserable month, Florida had another chance to win a game that it had fought for against an equally game SEC team.

And again, the Gators couldn’t make good on it, with Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon blowing by one defender and finishing through another to consign Florida to a 71-68 defeat in Starkville.

The blown-by defender was Noah Locke, who had just put in a game-tying two that gave him 12 points on the night; the finished-on defender was Kevarrius Hayes, who had just saved the game for the Gators by tracking down an offensive rebound he had no business securing and dishing it to Locke.

And those three Gators, and senior KeVaughn Allen (17 points to lead Florida) and freshmen Andrew Nembhard (13 points, eight assists, but six turnovers) and Keyontae Johnson (11 points, four boards)? They played well enough to give Florida a very good chance to beat a good team on the road.

But the rest of the Gators combined for just 10 points, with Jalen Hudson notably going 1-for-8 in 10 minutes of action and managing to both start and finish the game on the floor. Mississippi State’s Lamar Peters outdid that in a personal 11-0 run late in the first half, and the Bulldogs got double-digit scoring nights from Aric Holman (12 points) and Tyson Carter (10) off the bench, too.

And as Florida’s season spirals from promising to painful, Mike White increasingly seems caught between trying to squeeze any production he can from struggling upperclassmen like Hudson and Keith Stone (now a stunning 0-for-10 in SEC play) and riding that quintet of players he seems to trust most.

The 1-3 conference record Florida now owns reflects White not being able to strike that balance as of yet, as does the 9-7 overall mark. But the close losses — Florida has one loss by more than seven points since its season opener, and that 11-point defeat to Tennessee wasn’t really an “11-point defeat” except on the scoreboard — suggest that he and the Gators have not been as far off as the doomsaying about them implies.

Close only counts in things that aren’t basketball, though.

And right now, the Gators are only getting close enough for it to hurt.