Florida big man Colin Castleton was unavailable for Wednesday’s game after suffering an injury in practice the previous day, but that didn’t stop the Gators from winning their second straight SEC contest. Anthony Duruji feasted in Castleton’s absence as the Gators defeated Mississippi State, 80-72.
Much of the first half was played with neither team gaining an advantage of more than three points until a 9-0 run by the Bulldogs saw the scoreboard show a 31-23 lead with 5:10 left to play in the opening half. Mississippi State expanded the lead to ten less than two minutes later after a layup by DJ Jefferies. Florida was able to cut the deficit to six before the horn sounded for halftime.
The second half opened with both teams knocking down shots and Florida struggling to get stop after made baskets. But the Gators kept clawing back into it and eventually were able to tie it up after a pair of made free throws by Duruji. Though, the bulldogs followed with another run that extended their lead to eight at 61-53.
After Duruji was hit with his fourth foul with 8:55 remaining, Jason Jitoboh re-entered with four fouls and proved pivotal to the outcome. With just over five minutes to play, Jitoboh dunked the ball on back to back possessions to cut the MSU lead to one. Phlandrous Fleming hit a pair of free throws with 4:58 left that put the Gators ahead and they never looked back, eventually stretching the lead to as much as 11.
Duruji finished with 22 points on 6-8 from the floor. Tyree Appleby scored 17 points while freshman Kowacie Reeves added 14 points and made three triples. Phlandrous Fleming also finished in double figures with ten points.
The Gators shot 51% from the floor and made 10-24 from beyond the three point stripe. Additionally, Florida hit 80% from the free throw line, a place they’ve struggled of late.
Florida is now 11-6 overall and 2-3 in the SEC and will face Vanderbilt on Saturday in the O’Dome. The Commodores are 10-7 overall and 2-3 I league play.