Gators get past Gamecocks on road
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 10:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 10:43 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida had problems all night stopping the speedy South Carolina guard tandem of Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick.
The Gators didn't defend the 3-point line well and weren't overwhelming on the backboards.
Still, Florida summoned enough resolve to complete another road comeback, rallying from nine points down to beat South Carolina 73-71 before 12,718 at the Colonial Center.
Here's a surprise: At 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference, Florida (17-3 overall) stands alone in first place in the SEC East.
"If you would have told me that before the season, I would have thought you were probably lying to me," Florida sophomore forward Dan Werner said. "There's a long way to go. It's nice, but it's just the beginning of the SEC season."
The Gators won the game by making four 3-pointers in the final six minutes, after missing from long range for most of the game. Jai Lucas, questionable to start the game with a hyperextended knee, made an open 3-pointer to cut the South Carolina lead to 63-60 with 6:19 remaining. Another 3-pointer from Lucas tied the score at 65 with 4:53 left.
"Coach tells us, if it's open, take it," Lucas said.
Florida finished the game 8-of-22 from 3-point range, compared to 10-of-20 for South Carolina.
Downey hit a short jumper to put South Carolina back ahead 67-65, but Nick Calathes responded with a 21-foot 3-pointer to put Florida ahead to stay 68-67 with 3:46 left. Then, off a Downey miss, Werner hit his lone 3-pointer of the game, a dagger that put Florida up 71-67 with 2:54 remaining.
Sophomore center Marreese Speights led Florida with a double-double — 22 points and 13 rebounds — putting together back-to-back strong efforts in the SEC for the first time in his career.
"He was terrific on the backboards," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I was really encouraged to see him have two games in a row like he did."
Calathes added 21 points and four assists.
A Speights dunk extended the Florida lead to 73-67 with 1:04 left, but the Gators made things interesting when Lucas and Calathes missed front-ends of one-and-one free throws late. South Carolina trailed 73-71 when Calathes missed a free throw with 3.8 seconds left, but a desperation three-quarter court heave from Downey fell short.
"We lost to a team that plays well above their age," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "They don't panic when they're down. They have great poise."
Downey led South Carolina (9-9, 1-3 SEC) with 24 points. Fredrick added 19 points and center Dominique Archie had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
South Carolina had many chances to put Florida away, but couldn't. An 11-0 USC run erased a 43-41 Florida lead early in the second half. The Gamecocks scored four straight baskets on layups, taking advantage of their speed to beat Florida down the court in transition. Then, Fredrick hit an open 3-pointer to put South Carolina ahead 52-43.
But Florida stormed back behind Speights, who had his way inside against South Carolina's undersized frontline. Speights scored two baskets during an 8-0 run to cut the South Carolina lead to 52-51, then followed up an inside tip-in to cut the USC lead to 55-53.
"We couldn't handle Speights, didn't handle Speights," Odom said.
While Speights had his way inside throughout the game, Florida had problems early stopping Downey and Fredrick. Hodge and Lucas each picked up two first half fouls trying to guard them, forcing Donovan to turn to walk-on guard guard Shane Payne for some brief defensive stands in the first half.
Downey scored nine of South Carolina's first 22 points. The Gators trailed 22-15 when Downey hit a turn-around jumper in the lane, but answered with an 11-3 run.
Calathes hit a 3-pointer to cut the South Carolina lead to 23-22, then followed with a jumper to give the Gators a 26-25 lead with 4:57 left in the half.
The lead, however, was short-lived. Evaldas Baniulis came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer to put South Carolina ahead 31-26. Fredrick followed with South Carolina sixth 3-pointer of the half, extending the South Carolina lead to 36-30.
Freshman Florida forward Alex Tyus then fouled Archie going for an offensive rebound, and Archie hit both free throws to put South Carolina ahead 38-30 with 2:05 remaining.
But Florida responded before halftime. Lucas hit a falling-down 3-pointer from the right wing to cut the South Carolina lead to 38-33 with 28.6 seconds left. Florida then forced a South Carolina turnover with its press when Archie traveled in the backcourt.
The Gators worked the shot clock down, finding the mismatch with Speights underneath against 6-foot-2 South Carolina guard Brandis Raley-Ross. Speights dunked over Raley-Ross as he was fouled, then made the free-throw to complete the three-point play and cut the South Carolina lead to 38-36 at halftime.
It was surprising the game was that close, considering South Carolina went 6-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half, compared to 3-of-14 3-point shooting for Florida.
"Coach was pretty mad about the way we were defending the 3," Calathes said. "Our main focus in the first half was stopping them from 3 and we couldn't do it. In the second half, we stepped up and defended it better."
Former Florida and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and wife Jerri were among fans in attendance. ... Florida extended its winning streak against South Carolina to four straight games.
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