Twenty seconds into the game, Gators guard Lavender Briggs made the first bucket — showing an early surge of energy she lacked Jan. 3 against Texas A&M.
The Gators returned to the court refreshed, but the end result against No. 14 Mississippi State was similar. The Bulldogs crushed Florida’s dreams of winning a Top 15 home game 68-56 Thursday.
A three from Briggs and layup from guard Kiara Smith gave the Gators seven points and a lead. But Florida’s advantage quickly ended with a swarm of missed layups and threes — a recurring theme throughout the evening.
Following several baskets from the Bulldogs, Briggs made two free throws that tied the game 9-9. The Gators soon fell behind despite a bucket from Briggs.
Smith made two free throws that changed the score to 21-13, and the quarter ended awkwardly when the buzzer rang with the clock at 0.3 seconds.
Forward Faith Dut’s bucket gave Florida a strong start and was followed by a Smith layup that kept Florida behind by eight points. Gators guard Kristina Moore’s free throws chipped at the lead to six points.
But quick scores from MS State derailed Florida. A shot from Briggs was blocked but a bucket from Dut, who had previously missed a three, cut the lead back to nine points.
The Gators tried to energize their struggling offense, but the first half was marked by powerful defensive moves. Florida induced a turnover by forcing MS State into a shot clock violation. Smith ran the ball across the court but missed the layup.
Florida’s struggling offense spilled over into the third quarter, with the Gators making fewer baskets than before. The defense remained competitive, with the Bulldog’s field goals dropping from 50% to 45%.
After a rebound, Briggs snatched the ball, putting a dent on MS State’s attempt for early points. Dut then power dribbled for a layup that led to a rebound from Briggs. Moore swatted one of the Bulldog’s signature early shots, leaving the score at 46-35.
Despite a missed layup and three from Briggs, forward Jordyn Merrit made a free throw. Smith and guard Nina Rickards collided during a turnover, but Smith was back on the free throw line with less than four seconds remaining, retaining a 12 point deficit.
The Gators channeled their frustration through aggressive defense during the fourth quarter. After a turnover, a jumper and two free throws from Briggs brought Florida to a single digit shortfall that would disappear as fast as the seconds on the clock.
Following offensive trouble, a smooth basket from Briggs continued chomping at the lead. Dut got a rebound off a missed bucket, and Briggs’ final shot cut the Bulldog’s advantage to 7 points.
Then, when a possible win was in the Gators’ hands, a series of buckets from MS State forward Jessika Carter and a three from forward Rickea Jackson, set up the Bulldogs’ win.
Smith made a quick, smooth hit with less than two minutes on the clock. Back-to-back threes came from Briggs and MS State forward Sidney Cooks.
Florida fans’ screams couldn’t stop MS State guard Myah Taylor from scoring two free throws, and just like that, the game was over.
Briggs led the team with 25 points, 6 rebounds and two assists. Rickards scored four points and nine rebounds while Smith and Dut both earned 10 points.
“We fall short sometimes, but that’s just the game,” Dut said.
Coach Cam Newbauer said his team played an aggressive game that was close the entire time.
“We had really good moments today, but not enough, enough moments as a whole,” he said, adding that there were several careless turnovers and missed rebounds.
The Gators will face the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia, Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for noon and will stream on the SEC Network.
Contact Grethel Aguila at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila