Image Credit: ESPN Images
Four-seed Florida Gators basketball (27-9) saw its season come to an end on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, as it got completely outplayed in the second half by the seven-seed South Carolina Gamecocks (26-10). Florida fell 77-70 in the Elite Eight of the 2017 NCAA Tournament as South Carolina made history by advancing to the Final Four.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the team’s devastating loss below.
It was over when … South Carolina pieced together a 9-4 scoring stretch to go up 70-65 with one minute to play. Five of those points came on free throws, and the Gamecocks benefited from those nearly the entire second half as the Gators put them in the bonus with 14:53 to play. Trailing by four with 50.4 seconds left, Florida looked to get the ball back as South Carolina traveled while sailing a Hail Mary pass from one baseline to the other, but the walk was not called and USC wound up with two points from free throws instead.
The referees called four fouls on the Gators on a single possession early in the second half, giving Florida seven fouls in 5:07. UF did not enter the bonus itself until there was 6:47 left to play. But that’s not all that went wrong for the Gators, which missed 15 straight three-pointers to end the game and went 0-for-14 from long range in the second half. Florida also went 11-for-35 from the field in the latter 20 minutes and simply could not buy baskets or fouls down the stretch.
First half focus: Florida committed seven turnovers in the first 8:19 of the game and 11 overall in the opening 20 minutes, giving South Carolina plenty of opportunities to score quick points in transition, which it did to the tune of 13. The Gators negated that with some sharpshooting from beyond the arc, hitting 7-of-12 threes in the half including five straight bookended by senior forward Justin Leon. UF led by as many as eight and ended the half on an 8-3 stretch to take a 40-33 lead into the break despite USC scoring 22 of its 33 points in the paint.
Exceptional effort: Leon was really the only Gators player who was consistent in the game, scoring a team-high 18 points and adding six boards. But even Leon went cold, starting 3-for-4 from downtown and missing five straight threes to end the contest and finish 3-for-9. No one else really stepped up, which is a disappointment for Florida considering Leon is far from the team’s best player.
Significant stat: South Carolina absolutely dominated inside scoring with 65 of its 77 points coming either in the paint (42) or at the line (23 of 31). The Gamecocks also outrebounded the Gators 23-14 in the second half with many of those coming on the offensive glass for USC. This was the first time in the postseason that UF truly missed redshirt junior center John Egbunu, who was out the second half of the campaign with a torn ACL.
Odds and ends: UF played the game on a 37-hour turnaround, shortest of any team in the Elite Eight by four hours … Florida opened 7-for-11 from beyond the arc … South Carolina has outscored opponents by 64 points in the second half over four NCAA Tournament games … the Gators’ point guards did the best they could with nine assists but combined for seven turnovers, most coming in the first half … sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen regressed after a breakout performance, scoring 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting … junior F Devin Robinson, who dominated Florida’s first two games, was silent with five points on 1-of-5 shooting
What it means: Florida is now 5-4 all-time in the Elite Eight and falls to 1-4 in the round since 2011. The Gators also went 3-1 in head coach Mike White‘s first career NCAA Tournament appearance, winning two games over AP Top 25 opponents during their run. It was also just Florida’s 11th loss under White when scoring 70 points or more. For South Carolina, which had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, the program won its first Elite Eight game and will participate in its first Final Four.
Up next: The Gators will lick their wounds and prepare for the 2017-18 season. Up first is the potential early departure of Robinson, who must test the NBA waters and see whether he believes he will be drafted due to his size and athleticism despite an inconsistent game. Leon, senior point guard Kasey Hill, graduate transfer G Canyon Barry and center Schuyler Rimmer are all guaranteed departures from the program. Florida will help Egbunu recover as quickly as possible and be able to utilize redshirt junior transfer G Jalen Hudson next season.