Turnovers hurt Gators in loss at South Carolina

Florida's Ray Shipman (3) dives over South Carolina's Brandis Raley-Ross (5) for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010, in Columbia, S.C.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 10:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 10:36 p.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida had a chance to move a step closer toward its first NCAA Tournament berth in close to three years.


Three questions

1. Can Florida find ways to keep South Carolina senior guard Devan Downey from making shots in crunch time?
Downey was just 6-of-18 from the floor, but did his damage from the free-throw line, making nine of 10 free throws in the final two minutes to close out the game. Downey finished with a team-high 24 points.
2. Can the Gators use their size advantage against South Carolina to crash the offensive backboards and score second-chance points?
Florida out-rebounded South Carolina 41-35, but scored just 12 second-chance points. The Gators could have had more second-chance points had they not missed so many free throws. It's the first SEC game this year that Florida has lost when won the battle of the boards.
3. Can Vernon Macklin stay out of foul trouble and build off his 20-point performance against Mississippi State?
Macklin stayed out of foul trouble, but bobbled a couple of passes inside early and never regained his focus of the rest of the game. Macklin finished with just 5 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Instead, turnovers and missed free throws doomed the Gators in a 77-71 loss to South Carolina on Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena.

Florida (17-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) led by as many as eight points and 50-46 with 10:23 to go before fading down the stretch.

"We just gave the game away," said Florida point guard Erving Walker, who led the Gators with 20 points. "It was just a lack of focus, which is a concern considering what's at stake."

Florida, which came into the game ranked second in the SEC in free-throw shooting at 71.1 percent, made just 10 of 23 free throws. The Gators also had 20 turnovers which resulted in 20 South Carolina points.

"I really thought in a lot of ways the game was left out in the free-throw line for us," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

South Carolina senior guard Devan Downey, hobbled with a mild ankle sprain, led all scorers with 24 points. But this time, Downey got help from the rest of his teammates. Senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross added a season-high 20 points for the Gamecocks and center Sam Muldrow had 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Raley-Ross hit a big 3-pointer with 9:52 left to cut Florida's lead to 50-49 and Downey followed with a jumper with 8:16 left to give South Carolina its first lead of the second-half 51-50.

"When Downey gets his 30 and no one else scores in double figures, they are almost an easier team to guard," Donovan said. "I thought tonight, he did a much better job staying patient and getting others involved."

Alex Tyus (11 points, 15 rebounds) and Chandler Parsons (13 points, 11 rebounds) each posted double-doubles for the Gators, but Florida's gameplan of attacking the basket was negated by its inability to convert free throws.

"No one on this team is a 40 percent free-throw shooter," Parsons said. "It's just a matter of us coming in with more focus. If we hit some free throws, it's a much different game."

Raley-Ross' fourth 3-pointer of the game put the Gamecocks ahead 61-54 with 4:03 left. After Tyus missed a pair of free throws, freshman Kenny Boynton (13 points) hit a 3-pointer with 2:17 left to cut the South Carolina lead to 61-57 with 2:17 left. After Boynton fouled Downey on the following in-bounds play, Donovan elected to continue to foul to send South Carolina to the free-throw line.

"Kenny was trying to trap on the play and it was just a bad foul," Donovan said. "After that, I felt like we needed to get the ball out of Downey's hands and get more possessions to lengthen the game."

Downey made five of South Carolina's next six free throws to extend the lead to 66-57. Florida came down the floor with a pair of rushed 3-point attempts that didn't fall.

"At 1:10 left I had to call a timeout to tell our guys the last thing that we wanted was to bomb rushed 3s in that situation," Donovan said.

Overall, South Carolina made 16 of its final 20 free-throw attempts to close out the game.

Downey, who wore an ankle boot on Tuesday after rolling his ankle during a Monday practice, received more support from his teammates early. Muldrow led the Gamecocks with 10 first-half points, including a driving baseline layup that cut Florida's lead to 35-31 at halftime.

Florida shot 68.2 percent (15-22) from the floor in the first half, but couldn't pull away because the Gamecocks scored 11 points off 12 UF turnovers. The Gators led 28-20 after a Walker 3-pointer with 6:38 before South Carolina rallied. Downey and Raley-Ross combined for five straight points to cut the Florida lead to 29-27. But Tyus hit two inside baskets late, including a layin with 32.6 seconds left.

"There were things that we did early in the game that allowed them to hang around and play pretty well down the stretch," Donovan said.

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