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Updated: Friday, March 11, 2005 7:14 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(25) Florida 80, Mississippi St 64

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Behind the stellar outside shooting of Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, Florida rolled into the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Roberson scored 19 points and Walsh added 15 as No. 25 Florida earned an 80-64 victory over Mississippi State for its fifth straight win.

With the victory, the Gators (21-7) set up a semifinal matchup with No. 19 Alabama on Saturday. The second seed from the East Division, Florida is in search of its first SEC tournament title. Florida destroyed Alabama, 85-54, in their only meeting this year in Gainesville and beat the Tide, 75-73, in overtime in the 2004 SEC tournament quarterfinals.

"We're very excited about playing them," said Gators coach Billy Donovan about his upcoming matchup with the Crimson Tide. "We think it's a new year. We're playing them on a neutral site. I don't believe anyone in this league is 31 points better than anybody else."

Roberson and Walsh combined for six 3-pointers and 24 points in the first half as the Gators led, 46-29, at the break. Florida, which avenged a 71-57 loss at Mississippi State on February 1, pushed the lead to 25 points twice in the second half, the last coming at 66-41 on a 3-pointer by Roberson with 10:30 to play.

"We had a great opportunity. They beat us in their place," said Walsh, who bounced back from a mediocre five-point performance in the first meeting. "I didn't even remember (my last game against Mississippi State)."

"It seemed like every deep big shot with the shot clock winding down went in for them," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "We couldn't have beaten them at our best today with the way they shot the basketball."

Roberson, the SEC's leading scorer, finished 5-of-10 from the arc. Walsh and Corey Brewer, who scored 11 of his career-high 17 points in the second half, made three 3-pointers apiece for the Gators.

"We had pretty good ball movement and (Brewer) knocked them down today," said Donovan, whose team shot 48 percent (29-of-61), including 12-of-24 on 3-pointers. "He played with a lot of energy."

"They just made shots," Bulldogs forward Ontario Harper said. "When they make shots and you go down and turn the ball over, you make it easy for them."

Mississippi State turned the ball over 14 times, which Florida converted into 20 points.

Stansbury also thought that energy was missing from his Bulldogs club, the SEC's leading rebounding team, which lost the battle of the boards, 41-26.

"I didn't feel like we played with the passion we needed to play with," Stansbury said. "We got outrebounded two times this year. We got outrebounded against Alabama and tonight. Tonight we got pounded on the backboards."

Harper scored 16 points and Jamall Edmondson chipped in 14 for the Bulldogs (22-10), who absorbed their worst loss in the SEC tournament since a 76-53 loss to Vanderbilt in 2000. Leading scorer Lawrence Roberts had just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting.

"Lawrence Roberts is a problem," Donovan said. "I thought we did a good job not allowing him to catch the ball where he wanted to and when he did catch it to draw a double team to get the ball out of his hands."

Mississippi State, which started the season ranked 14th in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, is in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament after losing for the fourth time in its last eight games.


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