In a blur and a burst, Florida found the intensity needed to close out a Tuesday game against Ole Miss at home.
The Gators will need to summon the same sort of resolve and focus on the road in Starkville on this Saturday if they are going to beat Mississippi State (4 p.m, ESPN2 or ESPN+).
The Florida formula has been thrown into flux multiple times this year, most recently by the absence of Scottie Lewis — who will miss a second consecutive game due to COVID-19 protocols — in the wake of back-to-back losses. And the Gators were only just learning how to win — and not win — without Keyontae Johnson, whose season is all but formally over after his December collapse.
They did so against the Rebels with smothering defense in the final minutes. That might not be as necessary in Starkville, especially if the Bulldogs come in as cold as they were in a 56-55 loss to Texas A&M that crawled to just 58 possessions; Mississippi State’s actually excellent at shooting threes, connecting on them at a 38.7 percent clip that ranks in the top 30 nationally, but the Bulldogs are in the bottom 10 nationally in threes as a percentage of shot attempts even though D.J. Stewart, Iverson Molinar, and Jalen Johnson are all good and willing shooters.
But Mississippi State’s strange season has featured both Kentucky’s first win in more than a month, a clobbering of Missouri, and a track meet with Vanderbilt — and that’s all in the last fortnight. Predicting what, exactly, these Bulldogs will be on any given night? Kind of a fool’s errand.
Of course, what these Gators will be on any given night is an enigma in its own right. If Tre Mann and Tyree Appleby can keep the pedal down and produce something close to Florida’s desired pace, it’s possible this will be a rout.
The Bulldogs tenaciously slowing down the run-and-gun Gators — especially by limiting the live-ball turnovers that Florida feasts on — might make this a to-the-wire nail-biter.