Mississippi State's Johnny Zuppardo was wide open.

Mike White was the first to notice.

Standing on the sidelines behind Zuppardo, White watched as the ball left the forward’s hands, uncontested, and fell through the net.

The coach stepped onto the court and called a timeout.

"Are you serious?" he yelled at his players.

Over the course of a typical contest in the O’Connell Center, White is often the loudest member of his team.

He points and jumps, squats and paces.

He stomps his feet when his players should be pressing on defense. He shouts out play calls when Florida’s offense grows too stagnant. He rubs his temple after a Florida turnover leads to an opposing layup.

He’s aggressive, intense and communicative, the same qualities that he’s tried to coax out of his players all season long.

After the game, however, his words were softer.

Two in particular stood out.

"I’m searching," he said.

Eighteen games into the season, White is still searching for consistency. And eighteen games in, it's still difficult to gauge if Florida is any good.

Now is the time to prove it.

The Gators have shown flashes of having an elite-level defense, but they’ve also been lifeless in several games.

They’re unable to shoot for weeks at a time, but then, every so often, they can’t seem to miss.

After Florida's win over Mississippi State on Tuesday, White admitted the Gators have gotten better, if only in increments.

Through the season’s first nine games, UF averaged a 41.3-percent shooting clip from the field, while shooting above 42 percent in just three games.

In their last nine games, the Gators have averaged a slightly better 43.1 percent mark, and managed to shoot 42 percent or better six times.

But the Gators didn’t display consistency at home against the Bulldogs on Tuesday, allowing the only Southeastern Conference team with a winless conference record a five-point lead at halftime.

Just three days earlier, the Gators led for the entire contest against Ole Miss.

Florida’s coaches and players were far from satisfied with the three-point win over the Bulldogs.

"I mean, it’s Mississippi State, no disrespect to them at all, but they’re at the bottom of the league. That’s basically it," forward Devin Robinson said after the game. "…We didn’t come in here with the right mentality we were supposed to come out with."

Even so, if the season ended today, Florida would qualify for the NCAA Tournament with a RPI of .6256, which ranks 19th in the nation.

The bad news is, the Gators are entering one of their toughest stretches of the season.

Even though five of UF’s next seven games are at home, its opponents over that span have a combined 78-43 record, including No. 6 West Virginia (15-3).

If ever there was a time for Florida to find its groove, to settle into a streak of consistency that allows White to stop his searching, it would be after Tuesday’s disappointing game against Mississippi State.

"I do think we’re a lot more consistent than we were earlier in the year," White said.

"But we’re streaky with all of it. We are."

Ian Cohen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @icohenb.