The Florida Gators let an SEC game slip away on Wednesday as they fell to a 6-2 conference record.
Just days after breaking back into the Top-25, the Gators fell back into complacency in a 77-72 home loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Both halves essentially followed the same storyline.
Florida got off to a good start in the first half, going up 21-10 at the 11:31 mark. From there, South Carolina answered with a 14-4 run to come within a point of the lead.
Less than two minutes later, the Gamecocks had the lead and the two teams went back and forth to close out the half, eventually ending with a 39-37 advantage for the visitors.
Jalen Hudson quickly put the Gators out in front with a three-pointer on the very first possession of the second half. That kick-started an 11-0 run over the next two minutes to extend that lead to 48-39.
South Carolina immediately called timeout after a KeVaughn Allen three-pointer to stop the bleeding, and it turned out to be the smartest decision of the game.
“I don’t know what they did in the timeout, but they went back to what they were doing in the first half,” Hudson said. “They were getting more open looks and in transition we didn’t stop them and they were getting offensive rebounds. It was just lack of focus.”
Just like that, a 12-3 run brought it all the way back to a tie game.
The Gators and Gamecocks battled it out for the next few minutes, but for the final seven minutes, South Carolina would not be denied.
The Gamecocks took a took a 65-60 lead with 6:53 on the clock, and would not let that lead go below three points for the remainder of the game.
For every Florida answer, South Carolina had an even better one.
This went on tediously for several minutes, as the Gators would cut the deficit to three points, then the Gamecocks, usually Chris Silva, would quickly hit another dagger and kill the momentum.
Florida simply couldn’t get stops when it needed them, and that led to its demise in the game.
“We’re not good enough to play that way,” said head coach Mike White. “We’re not. Our margin for error is not that big, especially defensively. We’ve gotta continue to mature and we’ve gotta be more disciplined than that.”
Surprisingly, the box scores ended up nearly identical for both teams, as South Carolina went 24-for-55 from the field while Florida went 24-for-56, the teams each finished with 34 rebounds and the Gators even had the advantage in the paint and in second chance points.
The stat that did Florida in was three-point percentage. The Gators came in sitting at the top of the SEC from long-range, while the Gamecocks were sitting near the bottom at 11th.
For whatever reason, South Carolina found its rhythm in the game, aided by some open looks provided by Florida’s defense.
The Gamecocks shot 52 percent (11-for-21) from beyond the arc, compared to Florida’s subpar 26 percent (6-for-23) night.
“They had their way with us,” White said. “They did. We couldn’t find a way to get a stop. And they beat us in a different way than I think any of us would’ve predicted. They killed us from the three.”
Silva led South Carolina with an all-around game as he finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double. Wesley Myers led the hot shooting night with five made three-pointers and 22 points.
For the Gators, four players finished in double figures, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome the defensive woes.
Hudson and Egor Koulechov each had 16 points while Koulechov also led the team with eight rebounds. Allen had 15 points and Chris Chiozza finished with 10 points and eight assists.
Of all these players at the top of the box score, none were the bright spot of the game. That actually came from redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett.
Bassett has really been struggling to break through this season and hadn’t shown much development up until the last few games.
After only scoring six points all season, he came out and scored nine in 13 minutes on the court. He also made some nice effort plays without getting into foul trouble, which has been a struggle for him in his opportunities this season.
“Dontay came in big,” Hudson said. “He played really well, played really strong. He was really physical. He had some really good minutes. He needs to continue to improve, but I thought he played really well tonight.”
Florida has to find some balance to finish strong in conference play and eventually make a run in the post-season.
The Gators have gone from playing exceptionally well in one game to not showing up the next over and over again this year, and that is not a good recipe for success.
Florida will get a little break from the SEC grind this weekend, but it won’t get any easier as the Baylor Bears come to town for a sold-out game on Saturday.