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Tuesday, August 09, 2022
<p>Dorian Finney-Smith dunks during Florida's 81-78 win against Mississippi State on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Dorian Finney-Smith dunks during Florida's 81-78 win against Mississippi State on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center.

A second-half push led Florida to a close, three-point win on Tuesday night in the final minute against Mississippi State.

The Gators defeated the Bulldogs 81-78 in the O’Connell Center behind nine three-pointers and 20 made free throws.

It was the Bulldogs’ fifth conference loss in as many tries and Florida’s sixth straight win against Mississippi State.

Florida (12-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) shot 44.8 percent from the field (26-of-58), including a 9-for-21 mark from downtown and 20-of-33 from the free-throw line.

It was Florida's fifth-best shooting night of the season.

And even with 15 turnovers, it was enough for the Gators to win.

"We didn’t come in here with the right mentality we were supposed to come out with," forward Devin Robinson said. "It’s a wake up call that anything can happen. We got the win, but it wasn’t a good one."

With 1:55 left in the game, Mississippi State’s I.J. Ready made a layup to give the Bulldogs a 76-75 lead.

Following a pair of missed threes by both teams, John Egbunu drained two free throws with one minute remaining.

Soon after, the UF center made two more free throws following a Mississippi State layup to put Florida up 79-78.

Two more missed baskets by the Bulldogs and two KeVaughn Allen free throws put the game out of reach.

The Gators trailed 42-37 at halftime, following a missed Kasey Hill layup and a made three by the Bulldogs’ Fred Thomas at the buzzer.

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An energy surge in the second half after falling behind by 11 at the 15:30 mark helped lift Florida to a win.

"It opened our eyes a lot," Robinson said, "and (let us know) that we just can't take games for granted."

Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators with 20 points and 13 rebounds. It was the redshirt senior’s fourth double-double in Florida’s last five games and his first 20-point performance since Nov. 27.

Allen added 19 points with a game-high three triples, and Egbunu contributed 16 points and seven rebounds, his four made free throws in the final minute serving as the most important.

"I missed a few (free throws) prior to that, and I decided to stick to my technique and just step up and hit the free throws with confidence," Egbunu said.

Mississippi State (7-10, 0-5 SEC) shot 44.8 percent from the field, including 28.6 percent from beyond the arc and made 12-of-17 free throws. Twenty of the Bulldogs’ points came off turnovers and 15 came via fast break opportunities. Florida scored just six points off turnovers and two via fast break.

Ready, who averaged just 9.8 points per game prior to Tuesday, led Mississippi State with 20. Senior guard Craig Sword added 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Freshman guards Quinndary Weatherspoon and Malik Newman added 14 and 12 points, respectively.

The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, senior forward Gavin Ware, played just 15 minutes, scoring five points while grabbing only one rebound.

Ware fouled out with 5:30 remaining in the game. Senior Johnny Zuppardo and freshman Aric Holman also fouled out late in the game for the Bulldogs.

After the game, Florida coach Mike White admitted that Ware's absence helped the Gators in the final few minutes.

"I’m not sure that we came out with the right mentality. We can’t outscore people, and we were fortunate to outscore them tonight," White said. "Overall, any time that you can win an SEC game, you’ve got to feel good about it."

Contact Alex Maminakis at and follow him on Twitter @alexmaminakis.

Dorian Finney-Smith dunks during Florida's 81-78 win against Mississippi State on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center.

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