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Not Enough Juice

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Mississippi State cleaned up a lot of the issues from the last two games, but even their best game wouldn’t have been enough in Gainsville.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The slow start did not strike last night. For the first 11 minutes both teams went back and forth with solid basketball all around. Great effort on defense, and impressive patience on offense. They combined for just six midrange jump shots during this period, consistently finding ways to get the ball in the lane and get high quality looks against strong defense. Florida’s offense did a good job of pulling perimeter defenders off the shooters by driving, and saw eight open deep looks (three of which dropped, while a fourth led to a layup) during the first half. State did a good job of challenging these looks as much as possible, and gave up very few easy looks otherwise. On the offensive end State consistently pushed the ball into the lane to get decent looks close.

At about 9 to go Florida impressed their will for the first time, pushing the lead to 10 in just 4 minutes on a mix of great shooting and a few layups and fouls off good drives. It will be tempting to point to this as another time that State didn’t play 40, but that simply wasn’t what happened. They played disciplined basketball, but the Gators were just good. State also responded well after the run, clamping down and getting back to within five at the half.

The second did not open like the first, with sloppy play on both sides. Missed passes, lost dribbles, loose balls, and turnovers dominated the first three minutes, but it tightened up after that. The lead yoyoed between 3-8 points for a while, but after a so-closely-guarded-it’s-not-even-funny triple from Q, Chioza came back off the rebound for a similarly well-guarded 3 that dropped for an and-1 that put it at 10. That became the new baseline for the game until Wright tried to make something happen on a two on three break and got his pocket picked by Allen who calmly dribbled to the arc in transition and put his team up by 14 with 12 to go.

This time the “stopped playing” charge is more fair – frustration 3’s and iso possessions were all too frequent as State missed 8 straight field goals while UF built their lead, but even then there was nothing like what we saw this past weekend. And part of the credit goes to Mr. Hayes, who cleaned up multiple shots with blocks, several of which resulted in Florida possession. The rest of the Florida defense tightened up significantly in the 2nd half as well. Rebounding was also a huge factor as Florida led the category by one at the half but out rebounded the Bulldogs 20-14 in the second half, partly by being in the right place at the right time and partly by limiting State to just four offensive rebounds. But at no point was there a lack of effort on the boards.

Q brought it back to 12 at 8:12, but Koulechov immediately answered with a 3. A Keyshawn Feazell turnover on the next possession lead to a dunk to put the gators up 17 with 7:30 to play, and the game was all but over. The lead expanded and then contracted before the game finished at 71-54.

The big story line going in was the poor shooting, and they got their game back to “mediocre” tonight, shooting 31% from deep and 71% on free throws. Unfortunately those 3’s are almost entirely due to Quinndary’s 4/8 evening, but it’s a good sign that nobody else missed more than two deep balls. In general shot selection was much improved tonight, despite a few prominent poor choices along the way.

Yet it all adds up to a 17 point loss that wasn’t competitive for the last 7 minutes. That’s bad. And there are no “but look at this stat that’s prone to regression” punchlines here. The only regression we can hope for is in opponents. Florida just plain beat MSU tonight, and was the clearly superior team for an entire half. It looks to me like Florida is hitting their stride as SEC play ramps up, and I fully expect them to be on the short list for the conference title and a 4 seed or better based on what they did tonight. This is a very good team, made better by homecourt. Still, I hoped a solid effort would keep it closer unless Florida shot over 50% from 3. Disappointing.

Notes:

A big factor in that lackluster second half was Aric Holman, or more precisely, not Aric Holman. He fouled out very early in the second half, and he had been a huge factor on offense to that point. His work in the post was really impressive on multiple plays, and there were several good drives that started with his passing out double teams. Then again, after checking the box score, I don’t know that he was as important as I thought, with only 7 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes of work.

Ado also had some really good possessions in the post, and shot 6/8 with 10 rebounds and a lot of altered shots on defense. I didn’t see any of those clumsy turnovers he’s prone to either. He had a poor game on Saturday, but he bounced back well.

I thought Florida dominated the turnover battle in the second half, but a look at the stats says that’s not true. State only had seven turnovers in the half, to the Gators six. Pretty clean really.

But about that improved shooting… Other than Holman, Ado, and Q the team was 7-30 from the field.

Stapleton was suspended for the game after an arrest for disturbing the peace. The announcers said it stemmed from a car in December or something, and they issued a warrant this week. Weird. But this is not a trivial matter on a team that’s had two other players arrested in the past year. Nick was arrested for DUI (and he heard chants to that effect tonight – respect to the UF student section’s research) and Eli Wright went in cuffs for an unpaid speeding ticket. Only one of those events is a serious offense and it comes from a freshman in a new environment for the first time, but it seems flippant to ignore the issue.

Keyshawn Feazell got 11 minutes in Stapleton’s absence, and it was clear why he doesn't play a lot. He was essentially a nonfactor with zero points, four rebounds, and a turnover. I don’t get it. He looks good out there, and the announcers mentioned that Howland talked about how coachable he is, but it just doesn't translate to results yet.