While logic suggested a low-scoring affair Wednesday night between South Carolina and Florida, the SEC’s leaders in causing turnovers and two of the league’s stingiest defenses overall, the offense was even uglier than expected.
Ultimately, though, the upstart Gamecocks were able to find some offensive rhythm in the second half while the Gators never got comfortable.
No. 24 South Carolina withstood a late challenge to close out a statement-making 57-53 win over No. 19 Florida at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., while continuing its climb up the standings.
The Gamecocks (15-3, 5-0) are now one of only two teams still unbeaten in SEC play, along with Kentucky, while the Gators (14-4, 5-1) took their first conference loss and snapped a 7-game winning streak overall.
“In an environment like this, we’ve got to be better offensively,” Florida coach Mike White said afterward.
Nearly 6 minutes passed at the start of the game before either team scored, setting the tone for the much-anticipated showdown of ranked teams. To that point, the teams had combined to go 0-for-13 from the field.
Florida point guard Kasey Hill broke that scoreless drought with 14 minutes, 12 seconds on the clock and gave the Gators a quick 4-0 lead on back-to-back steals and fastbreak layups.
The Gators closed the opening half up 28-21, but the Gamecocks quickly took control after halftime with a 14-2 run and managed to hold on through a tightly-contested finish.
Florida guard Chris Chiozza scored with 40.3 seconds left to trim South Carolina’s lead to 1-point for the second time in the final minutes, but guard PJ Dozier hit a layup for the Gamecocks with 22.6 seconds left to push the score to 56-53. Chiozza then turned it over out of bounds along the baseline on a miscommunication with Canyon Barry.
Sindarius Thornwell hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end with 16.5 seconds left to push South Carolina’s lead to 57-53 and that’s how it would end.
Florida finished 0-for-17 from 3-point range and shot 35.2 percent overall in the loss while turning it over 16 times. South Carolina won despite shooting an abysmal 29.4 percent from the field with 15 turnovers as well.
Overall, though, White felt there were positives in his team’s performance.
“To be dead honest with you, I’ve been more unhappy in a couple of wins this year. I thought we played really hard, competed a high level,” he said. “This team, South Carolina, plays as hard as any team in college basketball. Hats off to them. No surprise with the intensity level they play with, I thought we played with a really high intensity level as well.”
Barry led the Gators with 13 points and Hill finished 11 points and 4 steals, doing all his damage in the first half before later fouling out. Hill also moved into fourth place on Florida’s all-time assists list with 454.
Thornwell led South Carolina with 20 points.
Player of the game: Sindarius Thornwell
The South Carolina senior guard was a different player after halftime, and not coincidentally, the Gamecocks were a different team.
He scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half to key the hosts’ turnaround. He hit 5-of-11 shots overall and was 9-of-13 at the foul line (8-of-11 in the second half).
Florida went into halftime with that 28-21 lead, but South Carolina opened the second half on a 14-2 run to grab the momentum.
The Gators never got the lead back despite the game remaining close the rest of the way.
“I thought they found a rhythm offensively, throwing it inside and drawing fouls. They were more comfortable, which is partly them and partly us of course,” White said. “I thought we played with a really high energy level defensively in the first half. Saw it in spurts in the second half, didn’t see it to start the second half. They got into a rhythm and all of a sudden we have got more foul trouble and they are living at the foul line. Got to be able to get off to better starts in the second half.”
Key stat line
The top scorers for both teams got off to sluggish starts Wednesday night. The difference is that South Carolina’s stars recovered after halftime.
Thornwell and PJ Dozier combined for just 8 first-half points, but as previously mentioned, Thornwell took charge after halftime and Dozier scored 7 of his 10 in the second half.
Meanwhile, KeVaughn Allen, Florida’s leading scorer this season, scored just 1 point on 0-of-3 shooting while being limited to 19 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I haven’t seen him with quite that body language,” White said of Allen. “I don’t know whether he is putting pressure on himself or what. I’m anxious to visit with him. … They did a really good job on him, they really did. And he is going to continue to be a focal point, but we’ve gotta get him going somehow.”
Florida returns home to host Vanderbilt on Saturday at noon inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center. It’ll be the team’s fourth home sellout since reopening its newly-renovated arena.
The Commodores, in their first season under coach Bryce Drew, are 8-10 overall and mired in a four-game losing streak that has dropped their SEC record to 2-4. They are led by Matthew Fisher-Davis’ 16.3 points per game while Luke Kornet (13.6 PPG), Jeff Roberson (10.4) and Riley LaChance (10.3) are also capable scorers.
Vanderbilt swept the teams’ season series last year with 60-59 and 87-74 wins.
Florida-South Carolina box score