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No. 24 Mississippi State frets about defense as Florida visits

Mississippi State dropped from No. 14 to No. 24 in the latest AP poll after losing its first two SEC games.

If the Bulldogs fail to improve their defense, they soon could slide right out of the rankings.

"I've always been a coach that believes defense wins first," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. "We really did a poor job of defending here in the last few games, and our efficiency defensively on the year is not even close to what we're doing offensively. Defensively, we've got to get better."

The Bulldogs (12-3, 0-2) began SEC play with an 87-82 overtime loss at South Carolina, then lost at home to Ole Miss 81-77 on Saturday.

They'll stay at home to face Florida (9-6, 1-2) on Tuesday night.

State hasn't had much trouble scoring, led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. His 17.1 scoring average is first among four Bulldogs averaging in double figures.

Weatherspoon scored a team-high 18 points against Ole Miss, but the Rebels made seven 3-pointers in the second half to rally from a nine-point deficit.

Ole Miss led by as many as eight points before State made a comeback to even the score with a little more than a minute remaining. But Breein Tyree got free against the Bulldogs' defense for a layup and added two free throws to complete the scoring.

Freshmen Robert Woodard II and Reggie Perry scored seven points each to lead a Bulldogs' bench effort that produced 18 points. The bench had just two points in the overtime loss to South Carolina.

"I thought Robert Woodard and Reggie Perry both had really good games for us as freshmen," Howland said. "I've got to use Robert more as a (power forward)."

Florida is playing its second consecutive game against a ranked team, having lost at home to No. 3 Tennessee 78-67 on Saturday. The Gators led 56-53 with a little more than eight minutes remaining, but the Volunteers took the lead for good with 5:34 left.

Florida has had trouble closing in each of its SEC games. South Carolina rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat the Gators in their conference opener. Arkansas cut a 16-point deficit to two before Florida made late free throws to hold on for the victory.

"We need more focus down the stretch," Gators freshman guard Noah Locke said. "It's been a problem three games now, with being locked in and focused down the stretch, and we can't let those things happen."

Tennessee's strong finish was aided by Florida missing six of its last seven field-goal attempts.

"We made too many mistakes down the stretch," Gators coach Mike White said. "Some of it was our offense hurting our defense late.

"We've got some areas where we're just average or below average. We've got good guys who will continue to work and stay together, but if we don't get more disciplined, more mentally tough and pay closer attention to detail, this is going to happen a bunch more."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 14, 2019

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