No. 7 Gators bite Bulldogs
The Associated Press
JAN. 11, 2001
STARKVILLE It was just a coincidence that Brett Nelson ran right in front of the student section that had taunted him all night after hitting the game-winning shot.
That's Nelson's story, and he's sticking to it.
Nelson hit a jumper with five-tenths of a second left to give No. 8 Florida a 81-80 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
Nelson's jumper put the exclamation point on a 19-point second half and silenced a small but loud group of fans that heckled the spindly sophomore mercilessly during the first half.
After draining the jumper off the dribble that broke a 79-79 tie, Nelson ran to halfcourt and pumped his fist in full view of the hecklers.
I was just running back down the floor,'' he said.
Aside from the usual crass insults that were hurled at Nelson, Bulldogs fans also ragged on the 6-foot-3, 185-pounders less-than muscular physique.
Actually, I heard them talking all game,'' he said. It's nice to hit the shot. You don't say anything, you just let you're actions do your talking.''
But in the midst of the celebration, Florida (11-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) failed to realize that there was still time left on the clock. Players ran off the Gators' bench and a one-shot technical foul was assessed on Major Parker for leaving the bench.
Antonio Jackson made the free throw, but the Bulldogs (9-3, 1-1) couldn't convert a desperation heave at the buzzer.
The one-shot foul call left Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury befuddled and fans irate. A couple of soda bottles were thrown on to the court as the players filed out and one fan was seen being handcuffed by police.
Stansbury said he had never heard of a one-shot technical, but his first comment after the game was officiating did not beat us. Florida won this basketball game.''
Nelson finished with 21 points and Udonis Haslem had 19 making up for the absence of injured starters Teddy Dupay (back) and Brent Wright (foot).
Dupay and Wright combine to average nearly 30 points per game.
Marckell Patterson had a career-high 28 points for Mississippi State, and for a while it looked like Florida might be in danger of losing back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 1999.
But Nelson picked up the slack for backcourt mate Dupay. Nelson hit a 3 with 5:28 left to give the Gators a 72-61 lead with 5:28 left. Moments later, another jumper by Nelson made it 74-65 with 3:58 left.
Nelson said his role doesn't change that much with Dupay sidelined because the guard spots are virtually interchangeable in Florida's offense.
They need me to score more to pick up the slack,'' Nelson said.
Mississippi State mounted one last rally with a 12-4 run that cut Florida's lead to 78-77 with 22 seconds left.
Then trailing by two, Derrick Zimmerman put back a missed jumper by Jackson to tie the game at 79 with 22 seconds left.
After a timeout, Nelson made his long jumper with Zimmerman's hand in his face.
Haslem also grabbed 16 rebounds, as he and Bulldogs center Robert Jackson spent much of the night slamming their 255-pound frames against one another.
If he catches it in the paint, he's going to score,'' Jackson said of his rival.
Jackson held his own with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Florida lost its SEC opener on Sunday at South Carolina without Wright on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. On Tuesday, doctors diagnosed Dupay's injury.
I think that since I've been here, this is as big of a road victory as we've had, considering the fact of what we had to face coming in,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
A bad week seemed destined to get much worse when Mississippi State grabbed a 41-34 halftime lead, buoyed by the pinpoint 3-point shooting of Marckell Patterson.
Patterson scored 17 in the first half, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range. He finished with a career-high eight 3-pointers on 11 attempts.