Florida drops first SEC game against South Carolina


Florida guard Erving Walker (11) and Casey Prather (24) battle for a loose ball with South Carolina forward Lakeem Jackson (30) during the first half at the O'Connell Center on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.

When Florida junior point guard Erving Walker stepped to the free-throw line with 1:07 left, the Gators appeared poised to come all the way back from what had been a disappointing afternoon of mediocre defense and missed opportunities.

Facts

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Can Florida stay hot from the perimeter?
South Carolina did a good job guarding the perimeter early, holding Florida to 1-of-4 shooting from 3-point range in the second half. Overall, Florida shot 5-of-13 from 3-point range (38.5 percent), not terrible but not as hot as it had been in its previous four games (31-of-65, 46.7 percent). Boynton and Parsons hit big back-to-back 3-pointers during a 10-0 run.

2. Will the Gators be able to effectively score inside against a South Carolina team that ranks near the top of the conference in blocked shots?
South Carolina blocked seven shots in the first half and altered several others. In the second half, Florida had a better understanding of how to attack South Carolina inside, but it was too late. Florida's frontcourt starters combined to score 31 of its 69 points. Freshman center Patric Young provided a nice lift off the bench with 12 second-half points.

3. Can Florida make its free throws down the stretch?
The Gators were simply awful in crunch time, missing their last five free throw attempts. Overall, Florida was 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) from the line to continue its season-long free throw shooting woes.

Instead, it was more heartache. Walker missed the front-end of the one-and-one to keep South Carolina ahead by a point. Then, South Carolina center Sam Muldrow drained an unexpected 3-pointer from the wing.

From there, South Carolina freshman point guard Bruce Ellington made four straight free throws down the stretch to help the Gamecocks pull off a 72-69 win over Florida before a silenced crowd of 12,158 at the O'Connell Center.




"I just shot it long," Walker said. "I can't ask to be in a better situation at the foul line. But I just missed it."

Missed free throws finally caught up to the Gators (13-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference). Florida shot 12-of-22 from the line and missed its final five free throw attempts.

For a team that came into the game shooting 65.8 percent from the free-throw line, Florida didn't step to the line with any sense of urgency or focus.

"It's frustrating," Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "It's such a little part of the game and the impact is so big. If we just hit our free throws, not even at the end of the game but all throughout the game, we've got to put the ball in the hole. There's no excuse for that."

South Carolina (11-5, 2-1 SEC) took advantage, going on a 13-7 run during a 2:50 stretch to close out the game to snap Florida's five-game winning streak. Walker's 3-pointer at the buzzer was inconsequential.

Florida was out-rebounded 39-36, the second time in three SEC games that the Gators have been beaten on the boards. Florida out-rebounded 13 of its first 14 non-conference opponents.

"There were some tough shots that they took that we did not come up with the rebound on, and they got the ball back on rebounds, loose balls, 50-50 balls," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That hurt us."

Walker led Florida with 17 points. Center Vernon Macklin added 12 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season, and freshman Patric Young scored a career-high 12 points off the bench.

Ellington led all scorers with 23 points.

Florida trailed 35-25 at halftime and was down by as many as 13 points early in the second half. The Gators remained behind 59-49 with 4:00 remaining before a late 10-0 run that tied the score. Parsons and sophomore guard Kenny Boynton hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the flurry. Parsons and Walker followed with driving layups to the baskets, but both missed free throws to convert potential 3-point plays. But senior forward Alex Tyus put back Walker's missed free throw attempt to tie the score at 59 with 2:52 remaining.

"We never think we are out of the game," Walker said. "Especially when we tied the game. We thought it was our game. We just had to make stops and plays, and they made more than we did."

Ellington and Lakeem Jackson followed with back-to-back baskets to put South Carolina back up 63-59. But Walker's 3-pointer with 1:51 cut the South Carolina lead to 63-62 with 1:51 left.

Off a Jackson miss, Walker dribbled the ball upcourt and was fouled hard by Ellington. Walker, a 76.5 percent free throw shooter, shot it long off the back of the iron.

"I thought mentally (Erving) was taken out of the play because Ellington was bodying him and they kind of got into a pushing match and the officials came over," Donovan said. "He needed to let that go and just focus on making his free throws."

In the first half, Florida failed to take advantage of an early 11-7 lead. With all three of Florida's frontcourt starters on the bench, South Carolina went inside to Damontre Harris, who had four straight points to put the Gamecocks up 18-15. Walker tied the score at 18 with his first 3-pointer of the game before the Gamecocks went on a 15-2 run. South Carolina had seven blocked shots, all in the first half, which threw the Gators out of an offensive rhythm. Macklin and Tyus struggled scoring inside early. The two went a combined 3-13 from the field in the first half.

"Our lack of understanding of how we needed to attack them offensively, we had way too many shots blocked, we had guys driving in the lane without a purpose, getting caught in the air," Donovan said. "We didn't make the right decisions with the ball. And I thought our lack of production on offense in the first half really bled into our defense. That was the thing that was most disappointing was our defensive intensity."

South Carolina shot 48.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Gamecocks went ahead 33-20 on a Jackson layup before Florida closed the half with a modest 5-2 run. The Gators could have had more points, but Tyus missed 1-of-2 free throws and Parsons missed a pair of free throws with 51 seconds left in the half.

"Our defense in the first half killed us," Parsons said. "We've really got to get stops. We've got to rebound the ball. And then free throws, especially me. I've got to take ownership of myself and everyone individually. We all have to go out there and individually make free throws."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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