What ended Florida’s chances at winning in their previous game was executing on late game free throws, but that wasn’t the case this time around.
The Florida Gators (8-6, 1-0 SEC) went 8-for-8 from the free throw line to ice the South Carolina Gamecocks (9-4, 0-1 SEC) 72-68, snapping USC’s seven-game winning streak at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina Wednesday night.
Jacob Kurtz, Dorian Finney-Smith, Michael Frazier II and Eli Carter swished in a combined eight free throws to hand their Gators squad a much needed victory to begin conference play. The Gators went 18-for-20 in the second half from the charity stripe, which has proved to be the difference in their games this season.
“Eli Carter, Frazier, Doe-Doe (Finney-Smith), Jake Kurtz did a real nice job of coming down the stretch shooting the ball,” head coach Billy Donovan said.
In earning their 10th straight SEC road win, and winning 14 of their last 17 against the Gamecocks, the Gators were led by Finney-Smith who recorded 20 points — 16 of those points being scored in the second half. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Frazier II added 17 points and made three 3-pointers.
Frazier came off the bench for the first this season after starting the previous 13 games. Donovan felt like he needed his junior guard to provide a spark off the bench and wanted him to play more to his strengths.
“I was really proud of the way Michael responded,” Donovan said. “I give Michael a lot of credit from a maturity standpoint to keep his head in the game and keep himself focused and come off that bench and be ready to play and give us good minutes. He just has to get back to who he is.”
After having a possible turning point performance to aid them the remainder of the season, Florida became the first team to out-rebound USC this season at 37-23 and added 14 team assists to display great ball movement.
UF went back to playing team basketball, erasing the selfish play that had hurt them in previous contests. Although Florida guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza both fouled out, they helped to hold the Gamecocks’ two guards in Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell to a combined 10 points. Both South Carolina players lead their team averaging 11 or more points per game.
Florida was also tested by being without center Jon Horford, who did not make the trip to South Carolina, after being suspended for detrimental conduct to the team. Forward Chris Walker ended up playing 20 minutes to account for Horford’s absence, but only added four points. Walk-on Zach Hodskins also stayed in Gainesville after receiving the same suspension as Horford.
Florida has now won their last seven contests against South Carolina and return back to Gainesville to play Mississippi State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Overall, the Gators played to what Donovan believes his team needs to do more of and that’s play collectively for the duration of a game.
“We talked about this before the game, was that connectivity in some second halves of games when it’s gotten hard we fracture as a team,” Donovan said. “Due to my opinion is selfishness. I give our guys credit they regrouped, regathered themselves and played very, very good game.”