- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State was crushed twice by Florida last season, once by 35 points and the other by 25.

This time around, the margin was just 11.

That represents progress for Mississippi State, which lost 62-51 to No. 3 Florida on Thursday night, but the gap between the Gators and the Bulldogs is still vast.

“Our team is growing,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “But we’ve still got a ways to go.”

Mississippi State (13-7, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) lost for the first time at home during conference play. Colin Borchert scored 15 and Craig Sword 12 for Mississippi State.

Casey Prather scored 16 points, Patric Young added 12 and the Gators used a 16-4 run early in the second half to turn a tight game into a relatively easy victory. Florida has won 12 straight this season and four in a row against the Bulldogs.

It was the 12th time this season Florida (18-2, 7-0) held an opponent to 60 points or fewer.

“We can’t always control the ball going in the basket,” Young said. “But we can control our energy on the defensive end.”

And that energy was intense the entire night. Mississippi State shot a respectable 23 of 54 (42.6 percent) from the field, but had to work hard on every possession.

The Bulldogs briefly took a 31-30 lead early in the second half on Gavin Ware’s layup, but the Gators responded with a 16-4 run. Mississippi State couldn’t muster the energy for a rally.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said the key to stopping Mississippi State was keeping them off the free throw line. The Bulldogs had 117 combined free-throw attempts in three SEC home games this season. They were just 1 of 6 on Thursday.

“A huge key was if we could defend them off the bounce and not foul,” Donovan said. “I thought we did a good job there.”

Florida’s Michael Frazier II had just nine points, but his three 3-pointers helped the Gators keep a comfortable lead throughout most of the second half. The 6-foot-4 sophomore missed his first six 3-point attempts before the last three dropped.

The Gators shot 6 of 20 (30 percent) from 3-point range and 8 of 19 (42.1 percent) on free throws.

Chris Walker, Florida’s touted 6-foot-10 freshman forward, is expected to make his college debut on Tuesday against Missouri after being cleared by the NCAA. His arrival will give the Gators some much needed frontcourt depth.

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