What started as a hot night for the Mississippi State men's basketball program ended in utter defeat.
The Bulldogs fell to the Florida Gators by a score of 80-72 on Wednesday evening, despite leading for the majority of the game. Shakeel Moore led the team with 18 points, while big-man Tolu Smith was right behind him with 17 second-half points and six rebounds. Iverson Molinar, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, scored only 12 points but had four rebounds and five assists as well.
Florida entered the game without star player Colin Castleton-- the team's leading scorer and rebounder-- but the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage of that in the end. The two teams went back and forth for much of the first half until the Bulldogs were able to pull away in the final five minutes. Mississippi State led by as many as 10 points late in the half and went into halftime with a 41-35 advantage.
MSU had all of the momentum heading out of the locker room... so what happened? The downfall didn't start right away for the Bulldogs, and they managed to do just enough to still have the edge over the Gators. Florida tied things up with 11:49 left in the game, but the Bulldogs went on a rampage from there that made the game seem all but over.
Smith tossed up a layup a little more than a minute later, and the team took a three-point lead. Moore was then fouled on his fast-break layup and extended the Bulldogs' lead to six after making his subsequent free throw. Smith took over again, this time sinking two free-throw attempts to push the lead to eight with 8:57 left in the game. That was the largest lead the team took before falling apart.
Florida was able to crawl back into the game thanks to bad defense and a couple of turnovers by MSU. For every shot the Bulldogs knocked down to reclaim a solid lead, the Gators were able to respond quickly. Eventually, the shots stopped falling for Mississippi State-- partially due to some horrible shot selections-- and Florida got hot in the nick of time. By the 1:18 mark, the Gators had scored 11 unanswered points and would go on to win the game with little resistance from the Bulldogs.
Who is to blame for Mississippi State's colossal collapse? Some of the players struggled and made mistakes, but the effort was there. If one player missed a shot or had a turnover, he ran quickly down the court to play defense. The team just didn't make the necessary adjustments needed to win, and that's a problem that lies in the coaching staff.
After such a big weekend victory over the previously-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, MSU needed this victory to boost its resume. There is roughly a month and a half left of SEC play, and the Bulldogs will face some very tough opponents in the coming weeks.
Mississippi State's next matchup will take place against Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon at Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs lost their first game against the Rebels by a score of 82-72, and a victory over their rivals is crucial for their resume, team morale and fan support.