Men’s Hoops Battles Back for Comeback Win at Florida, 78-71

(Courtesy: MSU Athletics)
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GAINESVILLE, Florida (MSU Athletics) Persistence, poise and toughness paid off for the Mississippi State men's basketball team as the Bulldogs overcame a 16-point first half deficit and a 10-point halftime hole to capture its fourth consecutive SEC victory en route to a 78-71 victory over Florida on Tuesday from Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

The Bulldogs (13-7, 4-3 SEC) snapped a six-game road losing streak to Florida (12-8, 4-3 SEC) which dated back to the 2007-08 season. In the process, Mississippi State erased its third halftime deficit of the season and 18th overall under fifth-year coach Ben Howland.

The Bulldogs buried 14-of-23 from the field, drained three of their five three-point attempts and were an efficient 12-of-14 at the free throw line during the second half.

Mississippi State had plenty of heroics sparked by Reggie Perry who erupted for a career-high 27 points on a 9-for-14 shooting clip. The SEC Player of the Year candidate has piled up 20-plus points in four consecutive SEC outings and in six of his last nine games. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on three-pointers and came away with eight rebounds just shy of his SEC-leading 12th double-double.

Robert Woodard II amassed 11 of his 16 points during the second half and was 6-of-7 from the floor. He also secured four rebounds and three assists.

Tyson Carter tossed in 12 critical second-half points highlighted by a 7-0 run by himself midway through the second half which turned a two-point deficit into a five-point lead. The Bulldogs are 36-10 since the start of the 2017-18 campaign when Carter provides 10-plus points.

Nick Weatherspoon was State's floor general as he registered 13 points and matched his career-best with eight assists against one turnover. He has compiled double-digit points during eight of his 10 games on the season, and the Bulldogs are 7-1 over his career when Weatherspoon distributes five-plus assists.

Abdul Ado and D.J. Stewart Jr. rounded out the scoring for the Bulldogs. Ado pumped in six points coupled with nine rebounds and three blocks, while Stewart Jr. worked his way to four points and grabbed three boards.

Ado's nine rebounds enabled him to become the 36th player in program history to eclipse 500 career rebounds. He moved past three players and into a 31st place tie on MSU's all-time list.

For the contest, MSU hit 28-of-52 shots from the field (53.8 percent), 7-of-12 shots from three-point range (58.3 percent) and 15-of-17 shots at the foul line (88.2 percent). The Bulldogs worked their way to a 32-26 rebounding edge and have outrebounded 15 of their 20 opponents this season.

Mississippi State had 13 assists and 15 turnovers, while Florida tallied 12 assists and 11 turnovers.

The Gators countered with a 26-of-57 shooting effort (45.6 percent), 8-of-21 on three-pointers (38.1 percent) and 11-of-14 at the charity stripe (78.6 percent). Florida was a scorching 8-for-14 on triples in the first half but misfired on all seven of its second-half attempts.

UF had four players in double figures ignited by 17 points from Scottie Lewis coupled with 13 points and seven rebounds from Kerry Blackshear Jr. The Bulldogs used a team defensive approach to contain one of the SEC's top point guards, Andrew Nembhard, to a conference single-game low of three assists.

FROM THE BENCH WITH COACH HOWLAND
""Great for our team to get a tough road win. We lost the last two road games by one. We had the lead in the LSU game, up nine, and gave it up down the stretch. Tonight and in Oklahoma on Saturday, we fell behind big in both of those games. We've got to stop making this a habit, but I'm so proud of our guys the way they fought back from the huge deficit in the first half to get it to 10 [points]."

"I thought we did a much better job defensively. Obviously, they shot 58 percent in the first half and were 8-of-14 from three. The second half, they were 31 percent from the field. We shot a much higher percentage from the field in the second half. We did a much better job on both ends of the floor in the second half. That's really gratifying, and I'm so proud of our guys. They didn't make a three in the second half."

"I thought Reggie Perry was absolutely phenomenal tonight. I didn't see how many minutes we played him. Wow, 37, that's a lot of minutes. We really did a great job of getting him the ball. I thought Tyson Carter, late in the game, took the game over for us on offense. He hit a big three from the right wing against their 1-3-1 press. He got to the basket three different times and scored by attacking their pressure. I thought Nick Weatherspoon was masterful tonight at the point. He's just continues to learn having eight assists, one turnover and knocks down the big free throw assist to Tyson late in the game. I'm just so proud for our team."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Facing a 52-43 deficit at the 15:55 mark, the Bulldogs ripped off nine straight points over the next 4:11 to draw even at 52-52.

Tyson Carter ignited the spurt with the hoop and the harm off a driving layup to dial up an old school three-point play. Abdul Ado followed with a putback layup, and Robert Woodard II cashed in with a transition dunk followed by a midrange jumper to knot the score at 52-52 with 11:19 remaining.

The two teams played within a possession of each other, and Carter gave Mississippi State a 59-58 edge on a right wing, three-ball from Nick Weatherspoon with 8:58 to go. It marked the Bulldogs first lead since a 4-2 advantage during the first minute of the game.

Carter wrapped up his personal 7-0 flurry with back-to-back layups late in the shot clock to vault MSU to a 63-58 lead with 6:32 left.

Florida pulled within three points on two occasions at 63-60 and 65-62, but the Bulldogs answered the bell each time. First, it was a Weatherspoon floater in the lane. Next, it was a picture-perfect trifecta from Reggie Perry on the left wing in-front of the MSU bench to bring the score to 68-62 at the 4:21 mark.

Ahead 70-66, it was Woodard II who delivered the dagger three-ball from the top of the key off a nice Weatherspoon feed with 2:23 remaining.

Mississippi State salted the seven-point win away going 5-of-7 on free throws inside the last 59.9 seconds of the contest. Carter and Weatherspoon converted on two pressure pairs where they had to hit the front end of the 1-and-1.

The Bulldogs scored on its first two possessions courtesy of two Woodard II assists. He found Ado for a dunk and connected with D.J. Stewart Jr. for a deep jumper just inside the three-point line to take a 4-2 advantage with 19:00 remaining.

The Gators rode Scottie Lewis who pumped in 10 of Florida's first 12 points aided by a pair of treys during the opening 3:51 of the game.

Ahead 12-9 at the 14:33 mark, Florida put together a 13-2 spurt over the next 3:14 off the clock to push the lead into double figures capped by Tre Mann and Kerry Blackshear Jr. triples 53 seconds apart.

The Gators grabbed their largest lead, 36-20 with 6:00 to go, on a Noah Locke three-pointer.

MSU turned to Perry who stabilized the Bulldogs with 17 first-half points on 6-of-10 shooting. He strung together a traditional three-point play on a putback layup, added a three-ball and hit a reverse layup in traffic which brought Mississippi State back within 10 points, 45-35, at halftime.

UP NEXT
Mississippi State has back-to-back Saturday home games to begin its February schedule as the Bulldogs tangle with Tennessee. Tip time is slated for 1 p.m. CT from Humphrey Coliseum. The game will be televised by ESPNU and carried online courtesy of the Watch ESPN platform.