STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)—With Joakim Noah and Taurean Green grabbing all the attention, Corey Brewer can be the forgotten man.
When Mississippi State forgot about him, he made the Bulldogs pay. Brewer scored 20 points, including five during a game-turning 10-1 run, and top-ranked Florida survived a scary Southeastern Conference road game Wednesday by beating the Bulldogs 70-67.
“I think Corey’s energy took our team to a different level,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
The Gators (18-2, 5-0) won their 11th straight with a dominant second half that featured big plays from Brewer, who excelled while frontcourt mates Noah and Al Horford struggled to a combined 5-for-13 shooting performance.
Brewer provided the big plays in the first of two key second-half drives and Lee Humphrey fueled a 17-2 run with all eight of his points to give the Gators a 56-45 lead with 8:50 remaining in the second half.
Brewer was also involved in that spurt, starting the run with a free throw and finishing it with a 3-point shot.
“I said before the game I thought we matched up with their guards,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “The guy we weren’t expecting to make 3s was Brewer. He was the X-factor today.”
Jamont Gordon scored 17 for the Bulldogs (11-7, 2-3), despite playing with four fouls much of the second half, and two-time reigning SEC freshman of the week Barry Stewart scored 16.
Taurean Green had 11 for the Gators, including a key 3-pointer with less than 4 minutes to play, and Noah scored 10. Horford finished with nine points, 14 rebounds and four assists.
The loss was the 12th straight against a ranked team for the Bulldogs, a streak that began in the 2004-05 season. But the Bulldogs played like a team on the verge of breaking through against the country’s best, never letting up and threatening even as the final seconds ticked off.
“Sometimes on the road it’s not always going to be pretty,” Donovan said. “The thing I was pleased with is I wanted us to go inside and get to the free throw line, and we ended up taking 30 free throws.”
The Gators were 23 of 34 from the line with Brewer hitting 7 of 10. He found his way to the line by using his size advantage over Mississippi State’s swift, but small perimeter players.
The 6-foot-9 swingman enjoyed a 5-inch advantage over any Bulldog assigned to him and used it. He had 10 points in the first half when his team struggled to a 33-27 halftime deficit. The Gators, who led the nation with 54 percent shooting coming in, hit 34 percent in the first half and struggled against the intense Bulldogs. They finished shooting 41 percent from the floor.
Mississippi State built its biggest lead of the first half with a 13-2 run that gave the Bulldogs a 19-10 advantage with 10:45 left. The Bulldogs built the lead with a small lineup of mostly reserves. Two of those bench players, Dietric Slater and Ben Hansbrough, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to end the run.
“It’s almost like you’re dealing with a completely different team,” Donovan said of the Bulldogs’ small lineup.
“You almost have to do two separate scouting reports for them.”
Mississippi State led 33-29 at the half and got off to a quick 37-29 advantage in the second half. That’s when Brewer and the Gators went to work.
Florida hit six free throws during the first run and Mississippi State began to get in foul trouble after starting forward Vernon Goodridge fouled out with more than 17 minutes remaining.
Humphrey hit two 3s in the second run that put Florida up 56-45 with 8:50 left.
Mississippi State fought its way back, tying it at 62 with 4:24 remaining. But Green hit an uncovered 3-pointer from the right wing with 3:47 left that gave the Gators the cushion they needed for the win.
“We proved as a young basketball team that we can go against the best in the country,” Stansbury said. “When we fight and play with that kind of passion, we have an opportunity against anybody and that is all you can ask—is to have a chance.”