Florida players blamed it on a lack of focus, both in practices and on the scouting report.
The No. 20 Gators, perhaps giddy following their big win over Kentucky over the weekend at Rupp Arena, simply failed to show the same defensive fire or attention to detail in a 77-72 loss Wednesday to South Carolina before 10,550 at the O’Connell Center.
Florida (14-6, 6-2 SEC) allowed South Carolina to shoot 50 percent from the floor in the second half and 52.6 from 3-point range for the game (11-21). The Gamecocks, who entered the game ranked ninth in the SEC in 3-point field goal shooting at 32.7 percent, surprised Florida with their perimeter shooting.
“They beat us in a different way than I think any of us would have predicted,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Gators were unable to make big plays and big shots down the stretch. The biggest came with 2:02 remaining, when junior forward Egor Koulechov came up with a steal with Florida down 71-68, only to turn the ball back over as he was falling out of bounds. Florida was forced to dig in for another defensive possession, but South Carolina junior forward Chris Silva hit a big fall-away jumper to put the Gamecocks (13-7, 4-4 SEC) up 73-68 with 1:39 left.
Koulechov blamed himself for the play, while White said a couple of teammates should have tried to come back from midcourt to meet him for a pass to try to bail him out.
“I saw a couple of white jerseys in the air, but I should have called timeout since I had possession of the ball,” Koulechov said. “I didn’t think quick enough on my feet and that’s on me.”
Another questionable coaching decision came when, with 46.3 seconds left and Florida down 73-70, White chose to have freshman guard Mike Okauru foul South Carolina’s Frank Booker with 39 seconds left rather than play out the defensive possession. Booker made both free throws to put South Carolina up 75-70. But given how poorly Florida defended down the stretch, it may not have mattered.
Offensively, Florida endured another up-and-down game, shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 26.1 percent (6-23) from 3-point range. Koulechov and Jalen Hudson led four UF scorers in double figures with 16 points each. Junior guard KeVaughn Allen added 15 points on 15 shot attempts and had four turnovers, while senior point guard Chris Chiozza had 10 points and eight assists.
The Gators led 21-10 early on a Hudson 3-pointer, but with Chiozza in foul trouble, allowed South Carolina to shoot its way back into the game. Graduate transfer Wesley Myers went 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half, scoring 12 of his season-high 22 points in the first 20 minutes to put South Carolina up 39-37 at halftime. Overall, South Carolina went 7 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half.
“It was our attention to detail and focus early in the game that hurt us,” Hudson said. “From the beginning, South Carolina played harder than us and wanted it more than us. They got some open looks from 3 that got their guards going.”
The Gators came out with energy during an 11-0 run to start the second half. Allen got Florida going with a four-point play, which put Florida back up 41-39. Chiozza scored four straight points on a pair of free throws and a jumper, then Allen hit another 3-pointer to extend UF’s lead to 48-39 with 18:15 left.
But Myers gave South Carolina life with a deep 3-pointer late in the shot clock with 16:11 left to cut UF’s lead to 48-42. Then, the Gamecocks started going inside to Silva and Maik Kotsar. Silva finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
“We doubled him every time he touched the ball in the post and he still got 18 and 12,” White said.
South Carolina regained the lead for good, 62-60, on a three-point play by Silva with 7:33 left. After an Allen turnover, Booker then made a 3-pointer with 6:53 remaining to put the Gamecocks up 65-60.
“The first five minutes of the second half defensively we were really good and those were the only five minutes of the game we were really good,” White said. “We had spurts in other parts of the game where we were decent against a team has struggled a little bit offensively in South Carolina with new guards and a couple of guys banged up. They had their way with us.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said the ability to make perimeter shots early opened things up for Silva and Kotsar inside in the second half.
“I said before the season that this was one of the best shooting teams, if not the best shooting team that I’ve coached,” Martin said. “The problem is that when you play in the SEC, the other teams do not cooperate while allowing you to shoot. Because guys were making shots, it made it hard to double Chris.”
Etc: White dropped to 1-4 in five games against South Carolina and 11-14 in games decided by 5 points or less during his UF tenure. … Florida also dropped to 8-3 at home this season and will next play Baylor at the O’Connell Center (noon tip, ESPN) in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
|SOUTH CAROLINA 77, No. 20 FLORIDA 72|
|SOUTH CAROLINA (13-7)|
Kotsar 3-6 2-2 9, Silva 5-9 8-9 18, Minaya 2-5 0-0 6, Myers 8-15 1-2 22, Hinson 3-6 0-0 8, Haase 1-4 3-4 5, Cudd 0-0 0-0 0, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Booker 1-3 4-4 7, Corchiani 0-0 0-0 0, Gravett 1-4 0-1 2, Beatty 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-55 18-22 77.
Stone 1-3 0-2 2, Hayes 2-5 0-0 4, Koulechov 6-11 3-3 16, Allen 5-15 2-3 15, Chiozza 2-7 6-6 10, Bassett 2-2 5-7 9, Gak 0-1 0-0 0, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Hudson 6-12 2-2 16. Totals 24-56 18-23 72.
Halftime_South Carolina 39-37. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 11-21 (Myers 5-7, Minaya 2-3, Hinson 2-4, Kotsar 1-1, Booker 1-2, Gravett 0-1, Beatty 0-1, Haase 0-2), Florida 6-23 (Allen 3-9, Hudson 2-6, Koulechov 1-4, Stone 0-2, Chiozza 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_South Carolina 29 (Silva 12), Florida 27 (Koulechov 8). Assists_South Carolina 14 (Kotsar, Myers 4), Florida 10 (Chiozza 8). Total Fouls_South Carolina 19, Florida 17.