GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—If it’s still a secret, it won’t be for long. Mississippi State is good—very good—and its star player, Lawrence Roberts, is right up there with the best in the nation.
Roberts was as dominating as his team Wednesday night, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead the 19th-ranked Bulldogs to a 79-68 victory over No. 17 Florida.
“He’s a great, great player,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “As good as there is in this league, as good as there is in the country.”
Roberts, the 6-foot-9 forward who transferred from Baylor after the scandal there last season, recorded his 11th double-double of the season and helped the Bulldogs (15-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) to the most impressive win yet in what is shaping up to be a special season.
Their only loss so far was a one-point heartbreaker to Kentucky last Wednesday on a last-second shot. The Bulldogs briefly led that game after trailing by 16 in the second half.
“We just go out there and play, and know we can compete with any team,” Roberts said.
Mississippi State posted its first win in Gainesville since its Final Four season, 1995-96, and handed Florida (11-4, 2-2) its first double-digit loss at home since 1999, the year before the Gators made it to the national finals.
Anthony Roberson had 20 points to lead the Gators, who trailed by as many as 22 and lost their second straight—this coming four days after an 86-72 loss at Vanderbilt.
“It was pretty much a frustrating game from start to finish,” Florida forward Matt Walsh said.
The Gators didn’t have anyone who could come close to shutting down Roberts, a two-time all-conference player in the Big 12 who is making a bid to win the same honors in the SEC this year.
The Bulldogs went ahead by double digits midway through the first half and never saw the lead fall below 10.
Not counting his handful of thundering dunks, Roberts’ signature play came with 7:19 left, when he made a spinning, twisting, underhanded shot off the glass for a 68-50 lead.
On the next possession, Roberson threw a sloppy pass that Timmy Bowers stole in stride for a dunk. It brought a smattering of boos from the fans and sent some of the sellout crowd toward the exits.
Florida played without starting guard Christian Drejer, whose lower back was hurting. That set off a chain reaction, forcing Donovan to rotate more freshmen into the lineup. Florida’s four freshmen combined to go 0-for-7 from the field and didn’t score.
“That’s just the reality of what we are right now,” Donovan said. “It’s the hand we’re dealt. We’ve got a lot of figuring out to do.”
Still, the absence of one player doesn’t fully explain Mississippi State’s dominance, especially down low, against a team that was ranked No. 1 only five weeks ago.
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gators 39-32; they outscored the Gators 44-28 in the paint. Second-chance points: Mississippi State 16, Florida 4. There are no stats for picking up loose balls, but if there were, the Bulldogs would have dominated that, too.
It wasn’t surprising, then, that Roberts wasn’t the only Mississippi State player who looked great. Shane Power played a stellar all-around floor game and finished with 15 points and seven assists, both season highs. Winsome Frazier scored 17 points and Bowers had 13.
“The more this team plays together, the better we’re going to become,” Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. “It also gives me a better chance to find out what these players can and can’t do.”
About the only thing they didn’t do Wednesday was make a lot of 3-pointers.
They shot 3-for-9 from behind the arc, but that wasn’t so much a comment on their outside shooting as a sign of their physical dominance inside, led by Roberts, who shot 9-for-13 from the field, with most of his buckets coming from within 5 feet.
“He’s a great player,” Walsh said. “A lot of times it was just guys not rotating right, not getting a body on him. But they just outplayed us pretty much one through five tonight.”
Walsh had 17 points and David Lee scored 11 for the Gators, whose last double-digit loss at home came, strangely enough, by the same score, to Mississippi in 1999.