Eli Carter scores 20 as Gators dominate Mississippi State
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — There’s no doubt Florida is better when Eli Carter is healthy.
When he’s making shots, the Gators are a completely different team.
Carter scored 20 points, his best outing since the second game of the season, and Florida handled Mississippi State 72-47 on Saturday night. Carter made 6 of 8 shots, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and was perfect from the free throw line. He also had three assists and a turnover.
"He can make the game easy for other guys," coach Billy Donovan said. "We need that out of him."
Dorian Finney-Smith added 16 points as the Gators extended their school record for consecutive victories in Southeastern Conference play to 23. The latest one was never in doubt, with Florida (9-6, 2-0 SEC) opening up a double-digit lead in the first six minutes, going up by more than 20 early in the second half and then coasting down the stretch.
Florida shot a blistering 62.5 percent in the first half, making 15 of 24 shots.
Mississippi State did little right in the first 20 minutes — until Demetrius Houston’s 65-footer at the buzzer. It was one of the few highlights for the Bulldogs (7-8, 0-2), who have lost eight of their last 10.
"Our guys started to figure it out and settle down as the game progressed," Bulldogs coach Rick Ray said. "Really there was nothing to play for at that point, so the guys played with a better offense, but it was too late. Our guys had to go out there from the very beginning with some confidence."
Mississippi State lost its first two conference games for the first time since 2006 and extended its road-losing streak to 20 games.
Roquez Johnson led the Bulldogs with 11 points off the bench. Fred Thomas and I.J. Ready added 10 apiece.
Finney-Smith was the best player on the floor for most of the game, making 7 of 11 shots and adding six rebounds.
Carter was just as good, a step in the right direction after missing significant time with a mid-foot sprain and then strep throat.
"It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders," he said. "It felt good being out there and helping my brothers. I’m just trying to stay healthy, obviously."
Kasey Hill, who finished with nine points and six turnovers in Florida’s conference opener, had seven points, seven assists, two rebounds and a turnover in this one.
Michael Frazier II, who missed two days of practice this week because of an upper respiratory infection, provided a spark off the bench for the second straight game. He finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Gators played their second straight game without center Jon Horford, who was suspended earlier in the week for conduct detrimental to the team. Donovan reinstated him Friday, but said he wouldn’t play against the Bulldogs. Horford wasn’t even on the bench.
Walk-on Zach Hodskins remains suspended.
Donovan said the suspensions, along with Frazier’s benching, were part of his fight to maintain his program’s culture. Donovan is trying to get a team filled with transfers and youngsters to buy in, to practice and play the way he wants and to do it on a consistent basis.
He got it Saturday.
"We are not going to be able to out-talent people," Donovan said. "We’ve got to become a really good team. It’s got to be a team that the sum is greater than its parts."
WINDED WALKER: Florida center Chris Walker played 22 minutes, his most since the season opener, and Donovan credited him with getting better at fighting through fatigue. Walker finished with two points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs continue to get dominated in the paint. After giving up 60 points in the paint in their previous two games, they allowed 32 inside to Florida. … Mississippi State hasn’t won in Gainesville since 2008, losing four in a row in the O’Dome.
Florida: The Gators have won five straight in the series. … It was Donovan’s 495th career win, leaving him five shy of the 500 mark.
Mississippi State plays at Texas A&M on Tuesday.
Florida hosts Auburn on Thursday.