- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Mississippi State showed it can win even when leading scorer Victoria Vivians has an off day.

Morgan William scored a season-high 21 points, picking up the slack amid Vivians’ worst shooting performance of the season, and the eighth-ranked Bulldogs beat Florida 76-70 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Sunday.

The Bulldogs (14-1) extended their winning streak to nine and ended Florida’s 12-game winning streak.

Maybe more important, a team with hopes of winning the conference championship and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament found a second scoring threat.

“We’re not one-dimensional,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “That’s our best player and she has a bad night and we still put 76 points on the board. It speaks volumes about our team.”

Vivians finished with 14 points on 4-of-20 shooting. The last time she struggled like that, the Bulldogs lost 53-47 at then-No. 6 Texas in early December.

William had just six points in that one. She stepped up Sunday, responding to a conversation she had with Schaefer about scoring more a few weeks ago.

“Coach tells me how it is,” William said. “Don’t take it personal. Just got to do it. That’s what I’ve been doing: stepping up for my teammates. I’ve got to play my role and that’s to be another scorer.”

The Gators (12-2) trailed by double digits much of the afternoon, but cut the lead to 72-68 on Carlie Needles’ 3-pointer with 49 seconds to play. They couldn’t get any closer and lost for the first time since Nov. 13.

Needles led the Gators with 17 points.

Mississippi State won consecutive league openers for the first time since 1992-93.

Breanna Richardson (11) and Dominique Dillingham (10) also reached double figures for the Bulldogs. But William did most of the heavy lifting, making two 3-pointers in the first half and five free throws in the closing minutes.

“They’re not a one-headed monster, for sure,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “Vivians is very, very talented and everybody knows you’ve got to stop her. But Morgan was the separating factor for them today, though. She did a great job when they needed big baskets and plays for her team, as a great point guard should.”

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DOUBLE-DOUBLE

Florida forward Ronni Williams notched her fifth double-double of the season. She finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds despite picking up three personal fouls in the first quarter.

EARLY RISERS

Schaefer said the only time his team could shoot in the O’Connell Center on Saturday was at 6:30 a.m. No problem. “Our kids are tough,” he said. “It’s just what they gave us. Home-court advantage? No big deal. I’m so dang proud of them and how hard they played and their mentality and their approach and them being a pro.”

TURNOVER PRONE

Florida’s biggest problem was turnovers. The Gators had 20 in the first half and finished with 32. “Our turnovers broke our back,” Butler said.

TIP-INS

Mississippi State: Improved to 5-0 on Sundays this season. … Having beaten No. 20 South Florida on Wednesday, has two wins in four days in the Sunshine State. Returns to Florida for the SEC Tournament in March.

Florida: Hadn’t lost since the season opener at Temple. … Fell to 16-18 all-time in SEC openers, including 10-7 at home. … Needles returned after missing the second half against Central Florida with back spasms.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State hosts Auburn on Thursday.

Florida plays at Tennessee on Thursday.

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