Senior Day isn’t until Saturday when Kentucky comes to Gainesville, but it was Sophomore Night in Columbia Tuesday when the #1-ranked Florida Gators (28-2, 17-0 SEC) took out the South Carolina Gamecocks, 72-46, at Colonial Life Arena. While making certain Florida’s four seniors didn’t go off on them, the Gamecocks made the fatal mistake of giving sophomore Michael Frazier too many wide open looks from the 3-point line. Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete combined for only 22 points, half their normal output, but they didn’t need to score because Frazier was on radar lock, hitting 33 of his 37 points from the 3-point line.
Frazier’s 37 points were the most by any Gator since 2006 when Joakim Noah had his career best game against Georgia. Frazier broke Joe Lawrence’s school record for 3-pointers in a game by hitting 11 of his 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Rotnei Clarke of Arkansas hit 13 3-pointers in a non-conference game in 2010 to set the SEC record, but Fraizer’s 11 were the most ever in a Southeastern Conference game.
And it’s a good thing that Frazier had it going because he didn’t get a lot of help from the seniors on the offensive end. Wilbekin scored only two points and was 1-7 from the field, 0-6 from the 3-point line. Young scored nine, Prather seven and Yeguete had four. While Frazier was 11-18 from the 3-point line, the rest of the team was a combined 0-13.
“It was really interesting because you go down and look at the stat sheet and we don’t have one guy in double figures,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in his post game remarks on the Gator Radio Network. “It’s all five, six, seven and then you see a big 37 there.
“He [Frazier] put on some shooting performance tonight and he shot it well in the first half. Obviously in the second half he just exploded. He got 21 shots up. He was 12-21 so he shoots a high percentage from the field and he goes 11-18 from three, which is an unbelievable percentage.”
When Frazier got into his second half groove, the Gators were plodding along with a 39-35 lead after taking a 28-26 lead into the locker at the half. Frazier hit a 3-ball to start and another to finish an 18-0 run that put the game totally in Florida’s control. In between he hit two more in one of the most impressive runs the Gators have had this season. Florida scored 18 points in 3:24 while allowing the Gamecocks only two shots and turning them over three times.
It was all part of a better effort at both ends of the court for Florida in the second half. With the exception of Frazier, who scored 15 points in the first 20 minutes, the Gators just couldn’t figure out the Gamecocks on the offensive end. On the other end of the court, the Gamecocks hustled their way to nine first half offensive rebounds to steal extra possessions and give them a chance to keep the game close.
It wasn’t until Frazier hit a 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the first half that the Gators finally took the lead for good at 28-25.
It was a first half that didn’t settle well with Donovan.
“I thought we were taking too many threes,” Donovan said. “I didn’t think we had enough balance there. We only got to the free throw line twice in the first half. We go 17 times in the second half. We were inside-out with a little bit better balance and obviously Micahel Frazier was on the end of a lot of plays and we found him. Scottie did a great job of finding him. We incorporated Patric a little bit. There was really no one else that really offensively gave us much.”
It wasn’t a lack of open shots, either.
“I thought Scottie Wilbekin had great looks,” Donovan said. “I thought DeVon Walker had a couple of good looks. Dorian had good looks. We had good looks and the way they play defensively they force you to shoot over the top and we did but we were more balanced in the second half.”
In the second half, the effort was better all the way around. The Gators made the extra passes, which often resulted in Frazier standing all alone in the corner or the wing with time to phone in an order for take-out before launching a 3-ball.
Although Wilbekin didn’t have it going on the offensive end, he was in lock down mode when he was hooked up with South Carolina’s leading scorer Brenton Williams. Williams came into the game averaging 15 per game but in the last 11 games he had scored 23 or more six times including 24 last Saturday to lead the Gamecocks to an upset win over Kentucky.
Williams managed seven points but only three of them were against Wilbekin. He got a 4-point play with 14:31 to go in the game and followed that up with a closely contested 3-ball over Wilbekin at the 13:06 mark that cut Florida’s lead to 39-35. That was as close as the Gamecocks got and it was the last time Williams scored against Wilbekin.
“Really I thought our defense, our hustle plays and our loose balls were really good in the last 20 minutes of the game,” Donovan said.
South Carolina shot 39.3% from the field in the first half but the Gamecocks were only 5-22 (22.7%) in the second half. For the game, they were 4-16 from the 3-point line.
Florida got a season high 17 steals with Prather, Frazier and Kasey Hill picking up four each. Outrebounded in the first half, the Gators dominated in the second half and finished the game with a 38-34 advantage with Finney-Smith leading Florida with six to go with his five assists and two blocked shots.
GAME NOTES: The Gators have won 22 games in a row. They haven’t lost a game since a road game to Connecticut on December 2 … Wilbekin scored only two points but he had four assists and two steals … Prather hit all three of his shots form the field … Chris Walker had another productive game off the bench with four points and four rebounds to go with an assist … Florida shot 25-59 from the field overall but the Gators were 14-29 in the second half … Florida is only the fourth team in SEC history to win 17 league games. Kentucky went 17-1 in 1970 and again in 1986 while LSU went 17-1 in 1985.