Florida coach Mike White is the first to say that his Gators are not a great defensive basketball team. They aren’t a great rebounding team, or the toughest team, he’ll acknowledge.
But they were Saturday.
The Gators delivered one of their best defensive performances of the season, building a 21-point halftime lead while rolling to a 65-41 win over South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
That was a season-low scoring output for the Gamecocks (13-12, 4-8 SEC), who shot just 27.8 percent for the game (including 2 of 13 from 3-point range).
“It’s a good example of what this team is capable of,” White said. “As we just talked to our guys about, we didn’t display having any excuses, whether it be size, injuries, how many minutes I’m playing, why did Coach take me out, why did he take that shot? We’ve had some inconsistencies, had some issues. We’ve got really, really good kids. I’ve said it all year, but our connectivity hasn’t been this year where it needs to be. … The last two games we’ve been as connected as we’ve been all year.”
South Carolina had won the teams’ first meeting, 77-72 in Gainesville back on Jan. 24, but the Gamecocks have now lost five straight since.
Florida (17-8, 8-4), meanwhile, is going in the opposite direction again, winning two straight after dropping three consecutive conference games. And this marked the team’s most lopsided SEC win of the season.
— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) February 10, 2018
Point guard Chris Chiozza led the Gators with 12 points and 7 rebounds and guard Jalen Hudson added 12 points and 5 boards. Collectively, the Gators tied a season high with 10 blocks and finished with an incredible 46-24 rebounding advantage. This after being outrebounded in five of their last six games.
The game was tied 5-5 when Florida went on an 16-2 run to build a comfortable lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard sparked that first-half run with 4 straight points, and Chiozza pushed the early lead to 21-7 on a fastbreak layup after Hudson forced a turnover.
The Gators went into halftime up 41-20 and never let the game get closer than 17 points the rest of the way.
“From the tip, locked in in a stance, getting to shooters at a higher level, [we] just played with as much energy as we’ve played with all year,” White said. “Now that’s the standard. That’s what our guys have shown we’re capable of doing. Let’s get that Monday in practice, let’s get it Tuesday, let’s get it Wednesday.”
One of the keys Saturday was containing South Carolina forward Chris Silva, who had tallied 18 points and 12 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting. He was limited to 22 minutes because of foul trouble this time, finishing with a quiet 10 points and 5 boards.
Florida also got nice contributions from the bench Saturday, with freshman guard Mike Okauru scoring 8 points, Ballard chipping in 6 points and redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett adding 4 points and 7 rebounds. Getting more production from the young players has been a recent emphasis from White, so that was an encouraging sign.
But nothing will make him happier than the defensive and rebounding effort.
“This was our best performance of the year. I told [South Carolina coach Frank Martin] that. I believe that,” White said. “To come in here and defend these guys at the clip that we did, and rebound the way we did against this program period was really, really good for us.”