South Carolina executed a play for the ages Saturday night in Exactech Arena, but not without a huge assist from Florida.
It was a stunning end to a game the Gators needed to win, Chris Silva scoring on a dunk with 2.5 seconds to go after receiving a long pass from reserve Felipe Haase, who wasn’t supposed to be throwing the baseball pass in the first place.
Wait, it gets even weirder.
Florida decided to switch defenses after Kevarrius Hayes tied the game by making one of two free throws, going to a man-to-man press.
“We were supposed to have someone on the ball (defensively),” said Florida coach Mike White. “We had a couple of guys running around at our three-point line wondering who they were supposed to match up with.”
As a result, Haase had a clear shot, threw a perfect pass to Silva, who had sealed off Hayes near the opposite foul line. Hayes and Florida’s Keyontae Johnson both fell to the court and Silva went to the basket for an easy dunk and what turned out to be a 71-69 victory.
Florida inbounded the ball but a long pass went over the UF offense and South Carolina had an improbable win. And Florida a damaging loss.
It was the first time in seven years Florida lost its conference opener.
“I’m not stunned, I’m disappointed,” White said. “We didn’t have a lot of maturity this week. We didn’t do much right.”
On four different occasions, Florida led by double digits, but each time South Carolina (6-7, 1-0 SEC) fought back. They were led by Silva, who was scoreless in the first half but had 18 points in the game, and reserve guard Hassani Gravett, who had 22 points and made 4-of-7 three-pointers.
Florida led for most of the game thanks to forcing 22 South Carolina turnovers. But South Carolina rallied from 14 down to take the lead on a Silva layup.
Dontay Bassett made a pair of free throws to give Florida a 68-67 lead before Silva put the Gamecocks back in front on two free throws.
Florida got a big steal from Johnson to set up a final shot, but on a scramble play Hayes was fouled in the lane. He made one of two with 3.5 seconds to go, setting up the final play.
Maik Kotsar was supposed to throw the pass in, but told South Carolina coach Frank Martin in the huddle his shoulder was sore. So Haase was inserted to heave it down the court.
“The pass was unbelievable,” White said.
The play was called “home run” and was set up to either go deep or find someone open near the foul line.
“We tried it earlier in the year in November and it was an embarrassment,” Martin said.
The game was a foul festival with the two teams combining for 48 fouls and 45 free throws.
“Every game I’ve played against Mike White has been an absolute street fight,” Martin said. “Because his guys don’t get out of the way and our guys don’t get out of the way.”
Freshman guard Noah Locke led Florida with 17 points, but missed 10 3-point shots after a hot start.
“We’ve just gotta get better mentally,” Locke said.
The loss came after Florida’s best game of the season a week ago against Butler. But Florida (8-5, 0-1) reverted to form with its upperclassmen struggling with consistency (starting forward Keith Stone has no points, Jalen Hudson was 1-for-5 on 3s and KeVaughn Allen only took six shots).
Florida freshman guard Andrew Nembhard had 10 points and seven assists.
“It’s tough to swallow,” he said. “We didn’t do out jobs today. We definitely should have won that game.”
Florida next plays its first true road game since the first game of the season when the Gators travel to Arkansas for a Wednesday 8:30 p.m game.
|SOUTH CAROLINA 71, FLORIDA 69|
|SOUTH CAROLINA (6-7)|
Silva 5-6 8-9 18, Bryant 4-8 0-0 8, Kotsar 1-4 2-6 4, Campbell 2-8 0-0 6, Lawson 2-8 1-1 6, Frink 0-0 0-0 0, Haase 1-3 3-4 5, Gravett 7-11 4-5 22, Hinson 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-51 18-25 71.
Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Hayes 1-1 1-2 3, Nembhard 3-10 4-4 10, Allen 4-6 0-0 10, Locke 5-16 2-2 17, Bassett 2-3 2-4 6, K.Johnson 0-6 1-2 1, Stokes 3-5 0-0 6, Okauru 0-1 0-0 0, Ballard 3-3 1-2 8, Hudson 2-8 3-4 8. Totals 23-61 14-20 69.
Halftime_Florida 36-32. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 7-18 (Gravett 4-7, Campbell 2-5, Lawson 1-4, Haase 0-1, Hinson 0-1), Florida 9-31 (Locke 5-15, Allen 2-2, Ballard 1-1, Hudson 1-5, Stone 0-1, Bassett 0-1, K.Johnson 0-1, Nembhard 0-5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_South Carolina 32 (Kotsar 7), Florida 30 (K.Johnson 6). Assists_South Carolina 10 (Campbell 4), Florida 12 (Nembhard 7). Total Fouls_South Carolina 23, Florida 25.