|Florida's Will Yeguete (15) is fouled by South Carolina's Damontre Harris (24) during the first half of their NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. Florida won 79-65. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)|
Gamecocks hot and cold -- again -- in loss to Gators
COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina coach Darrin Horn knows he'll never accomplish what he needs most for his young team in Southeastern Conference play.
The Gamecocks were outscored 19-3 to start the second half and fell to No. 19 Florida 79-65 on Saturday night.
South Carolina (8-9) started 0-3 in SEC play for the first time in Horn's four seasons. Then again, that's what happens when you have just one senior on your roster and start three sophomores and a freshman.
"As I have told you before, we can't make them older, faster," Horn said.
Florida (14-4, 2-1) showed why experience counts in the SEC. Kenny Boynton, a junior, scored 15 points and hit four of the Gators' 12 3-pointers. Senior Erving Walker had 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and seven assists. Reserve Mike Rosario, a redshirt junior, had 10 points as Florida finished with six players in double figures.
South Carolina stood toe-to-toe with the Gators and led 41-40 at the half. The Gamecocks, though, came out ice cold after the break, making just one of their first 13 shots to lose control.
"In general, we have got to understand that we may have a few lulls and we have to continue to find a way to defend better to give ourselves a better opportunity when that happens," Horn said.
South Carolina lost in similar fashion to Kentucky and Vanderbilt, hanging in for a half before losing. The team will have a week to work out its problems before it takes the court again next Saturday at Auburn.
"We've just got to know where everybody's at and make plays," Gamecocks guard Bruce Ellington said. "Then we'll come around."
Florida took advantage of South Carolina's poor three-point defense -- the Gamecocks are last in the SEC -- to put the game away.
Not even beloved Gators football great Steve Spurrier -- here for a halftime celebration of the Gamecocks season -- could slow down Florida, which had six players reach double-figures in scoring.
"This means a lot," Boynton said. "We feel like it's a new season, SEC play. Now we're one and one on the road and we just have to keep it going."
Florida will if it keeps playing like this. Will Yeguete and Bradley Beal had 14 points each, and Erik Murphy also scored 11 for the Gators. Yeguete went 6 of 6 from the field and added a team-high eight rebounds.
"Florida's a really difficult matchup," Horn said. "That being said, we've got to get better defensively. We can't continue to allow teams to shoot over 50 percent."
Ellington had 17 points to lead the Gamecocks.
Florida took charge with a fast start coming out of the break and held the Gamecocks scoreless for more than 8 minutes.
Boynton started things with his fourth 3-pointer and Beal followed with another long distance shot as the Gators moved in front 48-44. Rosario had a breakaway dunk after a steal, which followed an embarrassing play where he passed to Yeguete, who was waiting on the sidelines to enter the game. Rosario's teammates laughed and smiled before Beal added another 3-pointer.
By the time Beal hit two foul shots, the Gators led 59-44 -- and South Carolina could get no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Florida coach Billy Donovan acknowledged that South Carolina's poor shooting touch -- the Gamecocks were 1 of 13 to start the second half -- was as big a factor as Florida's defense.
"That allowed us to get out on the break and have more offensive possessions, extend our lead and push it out," he said.
South Carolina figured it would struggle against Florida's conference-best outside shooting. No one in the SEC had made more 3-pointers than the Gators have put up so far, and the Gamecocks had already been stung for 13 3-pointers in a 67-57 home loss to Vanderbilt last Tuesday night.
Florida came out firing, with Walker and Rosario making two 3-pointers each and Boynton adding another for a 26-18 lead halfway through the opening period.
The Gamecocks, though, began to find their range from behind the arc, too. Ellington hits a pair of 3s and freshman Brenton Williams hit two from well behind the line to give the Gamecocks a 41-40 lead at the break.
Neither team could stop the other: Florida finished 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) from the field, while South Carolina topped them at 15 of 25 (60 percent.).
Ellington, South Carolina's two-sport standout, got his first start since the football season ended. Ellington started fast, going 3 for 4 before getting pulled with two fouls.
Still, the biggest cheers came at halftime when Spurrier and his record-setting, 11-win football team were celebrated by the crowd. Spurrier, who had knee replacement surgery last week, came out with a cane and promised that while he looked gimpy now, "I'll run out on the field with this team next year."
Spurrier won a national championship coaching at Florida -- his alma mater. He introduced several players, including quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Devin Taylor, and reminded the crowd that South Carolina still hadn't reached its goal of an SEC championship.
"When we come out of Atlanta hugging and high-fiving, that's when you know we hit the Promised Land," Spurrier said.