The three-point shot has been called the "great equalizer" in basketball. That was the case on Saturday night as #19 Florida sank three after three in the first half to stay with a hot shooting South Carolina team, and used it even more in the second half to pull away and cruise to a 79-65 victory Saturday night at the Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina shot 63% in the first half, but thanks in large part to eight three pointers the Gators trailed by just one entering the locker room, 41-40.
“So far in league play our team has been a tale of two halves; tonight it happened to be different nights,” head coach Darrin Horn said. “I thought we had a good response in terms of getting off to a better start and playing the way we wanted to play offensively to start the game. Obviously 41 points in one half is tremendous for us and the way those guys responded was part of that. There’s no question that we have to find a way to continue to do that.”
Florida would come out hitting on all cylinders in the second half while the Gamecocks were cooled off by the intermission. Carolina could only muster a Damontre Harris three-point play in the first 8:48 of the half as the Gators built a 59-44 lead. Carolina made just one of its first 12 shots in the half. The offensive woes for Carolina during that stretch were due in large part to Bruce Ellington, Anthony Gill, and Harris sitting on the bench with three fouls apiece. The trio combined to score 34 of Carolina’s 65 points. It was an Ellington bucket that stopped the 19-3 Gator run.
“When we had our best offensive guys out there things looked pretty good for us,” Horn said. “Obviously we’ve got to address some foul issues; look at the one’s that maybe the guys having trouble cause on themselves and get that corrected. We’ve got a week to get back to work and get better at the things we need to get better at.”
The Gamecocks made a brief push late in the game, drawing to within 10 at 61-51 with on a Malik Cooke lay-up with 7:11 left, but the Gators would score the next five points to stretch the lead back to 15 and cruise to the final margin.
“I think a big part of it is just understanding; we can’t make them older faster,” Horn said. “We were terrific to start the game throughout the first half, and to start the second half we hit one of those lulls for whatever reason. The biggest part of it was that we had a few turnovers and forced a few things early and they turned them into baskets. In general we have to understand we may have a few lulls. We’ve got to continue to find a way to defend better to give ourselves an opportunity when that happens.”
There was not much the Gators would do wrong in the second half, except for a perfect cross-court pass from Rasario to Will Yeguete. Only problem for Rasrio was that Yeguete was walking to the scorer’s table to check into the ball game. Other than that, the Gators were nearly flawless in the second half, outscoring the Gamecocks 39-24 in the half. After the 63% start in the first half, Carolina shot a measly 26% in the second. Meanwhile the Gators shot over 50% in both halves and from behind the arc.
“Obviously Florida is a really difficult match-up with how they’re playing; they’re so skilled,” Horn said. “Any time someone puts four shooters on the court makes it really tough, especially with a team that’s learning to get good at this defense. People can’t continue to shoot 50% for us to be our best as we move forward.”
Florida led the SEC entering Saturday night’s contest with nearly 11 three pointers per game. They did nothing to hurt that, sinking 12-of-24 from behind the arc led by Kenny Boynton’s four. Erving Walker had three, and Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario each had two.
Ellington led all scorers with 17 points, while Cooke finished with 10 and Harris and Brenton Williams had nine. All five starters for the Gators scored in double figures, as did Rosario coming off the bench. Boynton finished with 15, Will Yeguete made all six shots he attempted from the field to finish with 14, Beal had 14, Erik Murphy and Walker each finished with 11, and Rosario had 10.
South Carolina is now 0-3 in conference play, but the losses have come to preseason #3 Kentucky, #7 Vanderbilt, and #8 Florida. While the Commodores and Gators have let games slip away to drop in the rankings, the level of competition the Gamecocks have faced to open up conference play is second to none. The Gamecocks do not have a midweek game and will return to action next Saturday when it travels to Auburn to take on the Tigers.
“I think to this point our guys have done a really good job of coming back the next day and getting back to work,” Horn said. “It’s hard to come out and play like we did to start the game tonight throughout the first half and make the run we made at the end. The challenge is at some point you need to see one go in the win column. I don’t think there’s any question that ultimately that affects a team.”