COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Florida continued to solidify its postseason prospects with a 65-41 win over South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gators (17-8, 8-4 SEC) never fell off the NCAA Tournament bubble but losing three of four games before beating LSU earlier in the week dropped them from the Top 25 and lessened their chances of winning the SEC regular-season championship. After the slump-breaking win over the Tigers, Florida crushed the Gamecocks (13-12, 4-8) at Colonial Life Arena by dominating the paint.
Florida’s defense blocked eight shots in the first half, 10 for the game, and contained center Chris Silva, the anchor of the Gamecocks’ offense. The Gators outrebounded South Carolina by 22.
“We showed up to play, but then Florida said, ‘We’re not losing to you guys again,'” coach Frank Martin said. “They ratcheted up the competitiveness of the game and we looked for the backdoor instead of the fight.”
When South Carolina made a brief run to get back in the game, the Gators sank six of their final seven shots for a 21-point lead at halftime. Florida never let South Carolina get within 15 points in the second half. The Gamecocks lost their fifth straight.
“This was our best performance of the year. Everybody contributed defensively and on the glass,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Of course, we’re reminded how much success South Carolina’s had against us.”
The Gamecocks had a two-game winning streak over the Gators, the first to reach their first Final Four last season and the second that started Florida’s midseason skid.
The Gamecocks beat Florida on Jan. 24 by hitting 11 3-pointers and getting 22 points from point guard Wes Myers. On Saturday, Myers was on the bench as Hassani Gravett started. South Carolina made two 3-pointers and Myers was scoreless.
Silva found his way through Florida’s defense for 10 points and Frank Booker scored 17, the Gamecocks’ only offensive highlights.
“We’re a hurt team right now,” Martin said. “We’re a team lacking spirit.”
The Gators blocked off the paint early and while offense was hard to come by, Deaundre Ballard supplied a punch with six points off the bench. It spread to the rest of the team, guards Jalen Hudson and Chris Chiozza combining for 24 points and Egor Koulechov adding nine.
South Carolina had its most energy immediately after Martin was hit with a technical foul from across the court. The Gators answered every shot as the lead swelled to as much as 27.
Florida: Koulechov said earlier in the week that the Gators wanted to be “less pretty, more gritty” in its execution. Their defense lived up to it Saturday, shutting off the passing lanes and having a hand in every interior South Carolina possession. The Gators entered Saturday only two games back in the SEC standings and play first-place Auburn and second-place Tennessee over the final six games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks haven’t won since beating Florida on Jan. 24. While South Carolina hasn’t had any “bad” losses, a team that was flirting with a postseason berth is approaching a .500 record with scarce time to get better. Martin has never lost more than six straight since he took over at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have dropped five in a row.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Gamecocks scored their least amount of points since Jan. 30, 2013. Florida won that day 75-36.
Chiozza was pinned in the corner and threw an arching shot toward midcourt, where it was corralled by Dontay Bassett. Bassett passed to Hudson, who slipped into the lane but missed a layup. South Carolina’s Maik Kotsar was right there for the rebound.
Koulechov reached with his left hand over Kotsar to tip the ball in the basket.
HE SAID IT
“I got a problem when our league office puts a guy on our game that got his break in the SEC and he turned his back on the SEC to go officiate other leagues. Why are we hiring that official to officiate SEC games? That’s a problem.” – Martin on receiving a technical foul
Florida: Tries to strengthen its postseason seed against slumping Georgia and a trip to league-worst Vanderbilt.
South Carolina: Faced with attempting to break its losing streak against No. 15 Tennessee and No. 8 Auburn, the top two teams in the SEC.
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