NCAA BK

Minus Egbunu, No. 15 Florida visits Mississippi State

John Egbunu was in the midst of his top performance of the campaign when misfortune occurred.

Now No. 15 Florida has to figure out how to overcome the loss of his presence and keep its season on track.

Egbunu will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee and the Gators begin their attempts to deal with his loss when they visit Mississippi State on Saturday in SEC play at Starkville, Miss.

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Egbunu, a 6-foot-11 junior center, scored 10 points in just eight minutes when he was injured during Tuesday's 114-95 victory over Auburn and the prognosis is that it will take from 10-to-12 months for him to recover. He averaged 7.8 points, a team-best 6.6 rebounds and provided stellar rim protection on the defensive end.

"We're all disappointed for John," Gators coach Mike White said. "He's been playing really well of late, so it's a tough blow to him and our team. He's a great young man, and unfortunately injuries are a part of basketball. He'll be back even stronger."

Sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes will move into the starting lineup as Florida (21-5, 11-2 SEC) attempts to win its eighth consecutive game. Hayes averages 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting a stellar 63.6 percent from the field.

"We've got to move on," White said. "There's going to be a game Saturday and nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Mississippi State certainly isn't. We've got to get ready to go again.

"Kevarrius has got to be really sound for us. He's got to be really vocal for us."

The contest against the Bulldogs (14-11, 5-8) could be a tricky one for Florida, which hosts South Carolina (10-3 SEC) and Kentucky (11-2) in its following two games.

Mississippi State has dropped three straight games and five of its last six to drop into a tie for 10th place. The Bulldogs lost 79-72 to Georgia on Tuesday but feel they are better than their record indicates.

"We know we can play with those teams," sophomore guard Xavian Stapleton told The Dispatch. "Being right there kind of hurts, but it motivates us seeing that we can play with those teams. It motivates us to work harder and get some wins."

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland is bullish that a late-season run could be on the verge of occurring.

"I think we're real close," Howland said. "... We've got to have a little more experience and understanding."

Sophomore guard Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the Bulldogs with a 16.7 scoring average and has topped 20 points eight times.

Freshman guards Lamar Peters (12.0) and Mario Kegler (10.5) also average in double digits. Senior point guard I.J. Ready (8.4 points, 4.5 assists) returned from a four-game average due to a calf injury and scored four points in 22 minutes against Georgia.

Mississippi State has allowed an average of 84.7 points during its three-game skid and will aim to slow down a Florida squad fresh off scoring its most points in an SEC game in program history.

Senior guard Canyon Barry tallied a season-best 30 points in the victory over Auburn to take over the team scoring leadership at 13.4 points per game. Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen averages 13.2 and junior forward Devin Robinson contributes 11.5.

Senior point guard Kasey Hill (9.7 points, team-best 5.1 assists) is coming off a superb game. He recorded a season-high 12 assists to become the third player in program history to top 500 career assists -- he has 502 -- and also had 11 points.