With a Final Four appearance on the line, the (4) Florida Gators (27-9) could not close out the game against the (7) South Carolina Gamecocks (26-10). The two familiar opponents battled it out to the very end, but the Gamecocks outlasted the Gators in the final minutes.
South Carolina advances to its first Final Four appearance in school history with the 77-70 win over Florida.
After a mostly evenly matched first half, the Gators pulled ahead in the final minutes of the half to go to the locker room with a 40-33 lead.
Florida returned to the court without the intensity it had to close out the first half, and South Carolina soon took a 49-48 lead with 11:28 to go. Back-to-back second chance points for Justin Leon gave the Gators back a 53-51 advantage a couple minutes later.
Then an endless back and forth battle began. The Gamecocks would tie the game, then the Gators would take the lead back. This went on for several minutes as the game would end with 14 lead changes and 10 ties.
South Carolina took back its final lead as SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell made a move to the basket to put the Gamecocks up 65-63 with 2:24 to go. Kasey Hill turned the ball over on the other end and Maik Kotsar finished it to push the lead to four.
Kevarrius Hayes answered with a layup and PJ Dozier then went to the line for two made free-throws. Chris Silva made one of two to put South Carolina up 70-65. A huge three-point play from KeVaughn Allen made it a two-point game once again with 53 seconds remaining, but Duane Notice free-throws and a Florida turnover would be enough to end all practical hopes.
A late turnover by the Gators ended in a dunk by the Gamecocks to officially put the game away with 11 seconds on the clock.
Turnovers, fouls and poor shooting in the second half were the story to Florida’s defeat. The Gators turned the ball over 16 times, four more than their season average, that led to 20 points off turnovers for South Carolina.
Florida was called for 21 fouls in the game, with 18 coming in the second half. While some calls were questionable, the Gators did not have enough to overcome the adversity.
After shooting 7-for-12 from long-range in the first half, Florida could not buy a three-point basket in the final 20 minutes. The Gators were 0-for-14 from three in the second half.
Justin Leon led the Gators with 18 points and six rebounds. He was 7-for-15 from the field and 3-for-9 from three. KeVaughn Allen (13) and Kasey Hill (11) were also in double figures. Kevarrius Hayes led the team with eight boards.
In the end, Thornwell once again proved why he was named SEC Player of the Year. He finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, shooting 8-for-13 on the day and coming up big making nine out of 10 free-throw attempts. He is the biggest reason Florida is now headed home.