Florida Gators basketball was looking to come away from a tough road stretch with consecutive wins. Despite posting its best stretch of offense on the season and looking to have some control late in the game, Florida (17-10, 8-6 SEC) dropped yet another close game and allowed the South Carolina Gamecocks (22-5, 9-5 SEC) to pull off a tough victory at home.
The win not only vaults South Carolina even higher in the SEC standings, it likely knocks UF out of the prestigious double bye that it could have utilized in the 2016 SEC Tournament. Furthermore, the Gators’ chances at earning a bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament took yet another hit on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s tough loss with eight quick-hitters.
It was over when: Florida wasted yet another possession while down three with 25.3 seconds remaining in overtime. Rather than try for a quick two or look for an open shot, sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza hoisted an off-balance three that clanged off the rim. (A hand-check foul led to two free throws for Sindarius Thornwell, which allowed South Carolina to extend its lead to three.) The Gators were quite terrible over the final six minutes of the game, forgetting the inside game that got them back in the contest late in the first half and kept them head-to-head with the Gamecocks throughout the second 20 minutes.
Still way too many threes: Forget living by the three, Florida is dying by it. The Gators once again put up an absurd number of attempts from beyond the arc with 32 of their 65 shots coming from downtown. Hitting just nine of those baskets and missing plenty that never should have been taken for one reason or another, UF simply did not make the most of its chances to score in the game.
The Gators made fewer than 35 percent of its threes for the sixth straight game, and as such, shot worse than 37 percent from the field for the third consecutive contest.
At least someone showed up: Sophomore forward Devin Robinson was the lone Gators player who played to his full potential on Saturday, posting a career-high 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Robinson hit 3-of-6 threes and both of his free throws, adding eight boards to his stat line. Redshirt senior F Dorian Finney-Smith was solid with a double-double of 18 points and 13 boards, but he was not nearly efficient or aggressive enough and missed a key free throw late in the second half that could have given UF a victory.
Flip-flopping first half: It looked like Florida was on its way to being routed in Columbia as the visitors opened 4-of-9 from the field and 1-for-10 from three. South Carolina used a 17-3 run to take a 30-13 lead with less than eight minutes to play, and the Gators looked like they would just try to avoid embarrassment over the remainder of the contest. Instead, UF answered back with a season-best 20-0 run over 6:44, allowing it to take a 33-30 lead into the break. Finney-Smith scored seven straight points as part of the stretch, which was fueled by Florida focusing on getting the ball in the paint and taking shots closer to the hoop. The Gators ended the half 8-for-11 from the field and 3-for-3 from downtown as the Gamecocks missed nine straight shots and committed three turnovers.
Swinging second half: Though not a replica of the first 20 minutes, Florida and South Carolina each had their runs and cold streaks over the latter portion of the contest. The Gators extended their half-ending run to 22-0 with a basket out of the break but then committed four turnovers in over four minutes while hitting 1-of-11 field goals, allowing the Gamecocks to jump back on top 43-42. A three from Robinson pushed UF ahead five, but USC was able to fight right back and find itself down one with 2:08 to play as redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu completed a traditional three-point play.
That is when things fell apart for Florida as Chiozza wasted an entire possession and turned the ball over, leading to a fastbreak dunk for South Carolina, which took a 64-63 lead with 30.5 seconds to play. Finney-Smith then hit just 1-of-2 free throws with 20 seconds left. Still, UF looked to have a chance at a shot with 2.5 seconds remaining, but freshman guard KeVaughn Allen caught an inbounds pass and immediately stepped out of bounds, giving USC a possession instead. Luckily for the Gators, the Gamecocks missed and the game remained tied after 40 minutes.
Point guard play still a major problem: Chiozza did hit a trio of big threes for Florida, but he also took four awful attempts and went just 3-for-9 from beyond the arc. Not only that, Chiozza and junior point guard Kasey Hill (who started the game but only played 20 minutes) each had four turnovers. Chiozza scored 11 points without getting to the line, while Hill went 0-for-4 from the field and dished seven assists.
Everything else: Allen was nowhere to be found outside of his turnover, missing all three of his attempts from deep and finishing with nine points … Egbunu fouled out and posted just five points, missing a number of gimmies close to the basket … the Gamecocks outscored the Gators 38-26 in the paint … Florida once again won the rebounding battle 42-39 … UF led for 16:45 despite at one point being down 17 and wasting a ton of possessions in the contest … Florida scored 33 of its 69 points from the bench, compared to just four of 73 for South Carolina … the Gamecocks snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Gators (four in a row in Columbia) and head coach Frank Martin beat Florida for the first time in his career
Up next: Florida will look to rebound at home on Tuesday when it hosts Vanderbilt, against which it fell 60-59 back on Jan. 26. The game will air live nationally at 7 p.m. on SEC Network.