STARKVILLE – No. 24 Mississippi State finally earned its first Southeastern Conference victory.
But it certainly wasn’t easy.
Just as it had been in both of the Bulldogs’ two league losses, Tuesday night’s game went down to the wire.
Quinndary Weatherspoon drove the length of the court for a contested layup with 3.6 seconds left and was fouled. Weatherspoon’s free throw gave MSU a 71-68 lead that stood to send the 7,501 in attendance home happy.
“I just do whatever I can to help my team win,” Weatherspoon said. “It doesn’t really matter what time of the game it is – the first five minutes or the last few seconds – I’m going to do whatever it is I need to do.”
It was the latest shot in a storied history of game-winners for Weatherspoon, who has now hit five in his collegiate career.
“It’s unbelievable,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “He just seems to have that rare, rare ability to make that play to finish.”
The Bulldogs (13-3, 1-2 SEC) shot 53.1 percent from the floor and were 10 of 17 beyond the arc. State also had 19 assists on 26 made baskets.
“This was by far our most assists and we did a better job sharing it and making plays for others,” Howland said.
Lamar Peters led the Bulldogs with 16 points, all of which were scored in the first half. The Gators held Peters scoreless on only four shot attempts in the second half.
“I’m sure he just got a little tired of scoring on us,” said UF coach Mike White. “He was terrific in the first half.”
Tyson Carter (12) and Aric Holman (10) contributed 22 points off the Mississippi State bench with Robert Woodard II drawing his first career start.
It was a back-and-forth first half until Peters took matters into his own hands. He went on an 11-0 run on his own including 3-pointers on three consecutive trips down the floor to give Mississippi State an 8-point lead.
However, the Gators were able to cut into the deficit just before halftime and closed within 36-34 when Keyontae Johnson sank a 3 just before the buzzer sounded.
Florida (9-7, 1-3 SEC) shot 42.4 percent for the game and was 10 of 31 from 3-point range.
KeVaughn Allen led all scorers with 17 points followed by Andrew Nembhard with 13, Noah Locke with 12 and Johnson with 11.
The Bulldogs will play four of their next five games on the road, beginning at Vanderbilt on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.