Facing a ravenous Starkville crowd with just one foul left to give, senior guard Zippy Broughton stayed cool, even as the Florida lead whittled down to four late in the game.
Her teammate, senior guard Kiki Smith, used the dribble drive to create an opportunity.
She kicked to Broughton, who buried a knife-twisting corner three. Less than two minutes later, she nailed the final two free throws of the game for a familiar Gator victory.
Florida (18-6, 8-3 SEC) came from behind to outlast Mississippi State (14-8, 5-5 SEC) 73-64 in Starkville for the Gators’ first win over the Bulldogs since 2014. Florida didn’t make it easy on themselves, repeatedly making errant passes and committing offensive fouls that gave possession back to Mississippi State.
If you looked at the stat sheet, it might be hard to tell why Florida didn’t run away with the game earlier in their win over Mississippi State.
The Gators dominated the Bulldogs in nearly every statistical category. They made more free throws, converted more second chance and fastbreak baskets and recorded a better shooting percentage from the floor.
Florida outhustled Mississippi State on the boards by 16, and the bench chipped in 23 more points than its opponent. The Bulldogs would’ve killed for some health Thursday night, having only seven active players on the roster.
But 18 uncharacteristic turnovers showed flashes of the old Gators and kept the game interesting until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We let them get a little momentum, and then we decided to match them in the second half, and that played to our favor,” interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley said.
Broughton led Florida with 21 points, including 3-6 shooting from the three-point line. Once again, she played with poise after picking up a fourth foul at the start of the fourth quarter.
Smith threatened a triple-double, adding 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Six of her makes from the charity stripe contributed to Florida’s 78% free throw performance.
Both teams got out to a sluggish start, getting most of their looks from close range. Florida held a 12-10 advantage in the paint by the end of the opening quarter.
Broughton got the Gators roaring back, sparking a 6-1 run with a handful of lay-ins to put Florida on top 19-17 by the end of the first.
Senior guard Kristina Moore provided a spark off the bench early in the second, adding a quick five second-chance points. The Gators went on a 6-0 run before the midway point of the period.
However, seven Florida turnovers in the second quarter hindered their efforts, as the Bulldogs outscored the Gators in a period in which they shot a mere 35% from the floor.
Bulldogs guard Anastasia Hayes kept drawing fouls on Florida defenders and making them pay at the free-throw line. Finishing with a game-high 22 points, she made as many free throws as the Gators did as a team before the break, leading all scorers with 13 points at the half.
The sloppiness culminated in the third quarter. 6 turnovers each held both teams from gaining any sort of advantage.
Senior forward Emanuely de Oliveira had her best game of the season in 26 minutes off the bench. She had nine of her 13 points in the second half to keep Florida up two going into the fourth.
Finley took note of Manu’s dedication even while playing off the bench.
“She’s a tough player,” Finley said. “She’s willing to do whatever the team needs in order for us to find success. And tonight, it was score points.”
Mississippi State smartly drove right at Broughton to start the final period, finally getting the inevitable fourth foul called with 7:24 to play.
An eight point flash from Bulldog guard Jerkaila Jordan cut the Florida lead to three with 2:54 remaining. She finished with 20 points as the only other Bulldog in double figures.
The Gators’ free-throw proficiency shined down the stretch, continuing the season’s trend. They overcame a near six-minute field goal drought by going 11-14 from the line in the fourth. The Bulldogs faltered in that area, posting a 55% free-throw clip on the night.
Broughton hit a three and two free throws in the final two and a half minutes to seal the win for the Gators, who earned a rare victory over the Bulldogs in Starkville.
Florida gets back in action Monday for their second matchup with Auburn. The game will air on the SEC Network.
Contact Caleb Wiegandt at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt.