By MATTHEW STEVENS
Florida was deemed the Southeastern Conference favorite because of its five starters coming back but Saturday it was Mississippi State’s four stars that prevailed in Starkville.
The Bulldogs got every one of its points from starters Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson in route to an 71-64 upset victory in a nationally-televised atmosphere at Humphrey Coliseum Saturday.
“I’ve been trying to convince them we got a chance,” Stansbury said. “If they want to believe it – great. I’m not going to throw no ice water on that.”
Less than 48 hours after having his front teeth bonded together after catching an elbow in Thursday’s loss to Vanderbilt, Bost responded by leading all players with 24 points and five assists in 38 minutes.
“I knew (the teeth) would be coming out soon, probably like next week so if they came out – I was going to keep on playing,” Bost said.
The MSU training staff said Bost will have one of front teeth removed this coming week and a semi-permanent fill in will be inserted in its place.
Bost had a solid duel with Florida’s point guard and leading scorer Ervin Walker as the two players managed to give their team the lead on jump shorts, layups or free throws on five consecutive possessions with 9 minutes left to go.
“I didn’t really want to do too much there but (the shots) were falling so that was good,” Bost said.
Saturday marked the third occasion in Bost’s sixth game back from suspension (five for academics and nine for missing the 2010 NBA Draft withdrawal deadline) that the 6-foot-2 guard has risen over the 20 point mark in a game this season. The junior guard has averaged just over 18 points per game and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of over two-to-one.
“Our chemistry keeps getting better and better," Bost said. "We just need to keep fighting and getting these wins."
Walker would lead Florida in scoring with 18 and was one of only two Gators in double figures with forward Vernon Macklin contributing 10 points.
The casualties that caused Thursday’s loss to Vanderbilt were completely reversed against No. 24 Florida as the Bulldogs (11-9, 3-3 in SEC) committed just eight turnovers and not a single giveaway in the final 11 minutes of the contest.
“The things that beat us Thursday night, didn’t beat us this game and we talked about that during a timeout,” Stansbury said. “We were in the same situation where the game could go either way. We had missed block outs and turnovers Thursday (but) those things didn’t happen.”
The last victory for State against a ranked opponent at home was an 88-68 win against then-No. 15 Ole Miss in 2008.
Mississippi State, who had not defeated a team ranked in the Top 50 of the Rating Percentage Index throughout the 2010-11 season, ran out to an early 25-15 lead thanks to perfect shooting from Augustus as the senior forward drained three shots from beyond the arc.
“After Thursday night’s game (against Vanderbilt), I don’t thing anybody, anywhere gave us a chance here today,” Stansbury said. “To bounce back in 36 hours and do it against the best team in the SEC, our kids deserve a lot of credit for doing that.”
Augustus, who hadn’t had more than 12 points in a game since Christmas, had 11 of his 16 points in the first eight minutes of the game setting a tone for the MSU offense.
The 6-foot-8 forward then sealed the victory with a block of a driving lay-in by Walker after he split an MSU double team but the Bulldogs power forward was able to pin the basketball against the backboard to prevent an easy two points late.
“After his quick start, I didn’t think he did a whole lot after that but he’s a good player to stretch and shoot the basketball,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “Certainly a good cushion to start the game.”
The Gators were held without a field goal for the final 5:40 of the contest and missed five free throws while up by a point from that moment on.
“I thought we guarded Florida, with where we’re at defensively, about as well as they can be guarded,” Stansbury said. “With that ball screen and roll, they didn’t hurt us on that roll guy.”
Florida (16-5. 6-2) kept the game close throughout the first half by blowing past State defenders to the goal for 26 points in the paint mostly coming from uncontested layups and second-chance points off offensive rebounds.
Throughout the first half, State’s four players that cracked the scoring column were a combined 14-for-21 from the field and 5-for-8 on three pointers.
Mississippi State has now won four of their last five games in this series with the only negative mark for the Bulldogs coming last year in Gainesvile.
Sidney got the 7,512 at Humphrey Coliseum rocking early in the second half with a two-handed dunk and a pair of free throws in the first minute after the intermission.
“He was just a load down low,” Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. “He’s all of 270 pounds and really good at times of using his body to get good looks.”
The former McDonald’s All-American had his best game at home this season ending the afternoon with 16 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes after being a complete non-factor in Thursday’s loss.
“He was better (and) more productive tonight,” Stansbury said. “For the most part, I don’t remember him taking a lot of possessions off. Florida won’t allow you to take a lot of them off.”
Florida will look back at this game and circle its stat at the free-throw line (9-for-19) as the main culprit to its woes as the 10th-best team from the charity stripe connected on just 5-for-12 in the final 20 minutes of play. Take away Walker’s 93 percent shooting and the Gators came into Starkville shooting just 60 percent from the foul line.
“We shot ourselves in the foot by not hitting shots from the free throw line,” Parsons said. “We just did not play well at all. If we make our shots it totally changes the complexion of the game.”
Conversely Mississippi State was 19-of-23 on free throws.
Being two games behind in the loss column for the SEC West title, Mississippi State’s road game at division leader Alabama on Feb. 2 becomes increasingly crucial to saving its 2010-11 season.