COLUMBIA, S.C. – Florida turned its matchup at South Carolina on Saturday into a block party.
The Gators blocked 10 shots Saturday in their 65-41 win against the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena, matching a season high. Florida also blocked 10 shots in its SEC opener on Dec. 30 against Vanderbilt.
UF recorded six of its 10 blocks in the first half. Junior center Kevarrius Hayes set the tone early, blocking a shot in the lane by South Carolina junior forward Chris Silva with 18:43 left in the first half. Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone then swatted a 3-point attempt by South Carolina freshman forward Justin Minaya into the stands with 18:04 left.
“I feel like that was a big part of our energy,” Hayes said. “We were out there hustling to make plays. We were in position to block some shots and it gave our guys energy, knowing they’ve got us to help protect the rim.”
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Stone matched a season-high with three blocked shots. Hayes and redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett each had two blocks.
“We know when they get in the paint, they shot fake,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “Most of our blocks were probably from good rotation, coming from the weak side, just knowing their tendencies. When they got in the paint, we walled up and allowed the other guys to come and make plays.”
Orange and black again
Florida improved to 4-1 in its Nike issued, orange-and-black uniforms it first wore in the PK 80 Tournament in Portland, Ore.
The last time Florida wore the orange unis, the Gators shot 14-25 from 3-point range (56 percent) in an 81-60 win over Baylor. This time, Florida found a different way to generate offense by attacking the rim throughout the game.
Florida attempted just 13 3-pointers, going 4 of 13 (30.8 percent). But the Gators were able to get their share of inside baskets, going 20 of 39 on two-point shots. In addition, the Gators got to the free throw line 18 times, making 13 (72.2 percent).
“We had some open shots that we didn’t make,” Chiozza said. “And we had some that we probably could have took that were questionable. But we did a good job really working to get wide open shots. You get ball movement, a lot of movement, it’s hard to guard.”
Chiozza scored four of his five baskets on drives, including a pretty reverse layup in the second half. By going 5 of 7 from the floor, Chiozza snapped out of a mini slump in which he had gone 3 of 14 from the field in his last two games.
“They are very good at pressuring the ball,” Chiozza said. “We were running actions and whoever is supposed to be in help, they lose sight of the ball. If you just see lanes, you’ve got to be aggressive.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin was whistled for a technical by crew chief Lee Cassell with 6:08 left in the first half.
Martin said after the game he was upset that forward Chris Silva didn’t get the opportunity for a three-point play after he felt he was bumped inside while whistling for a layup. But he didn’t hold back postgame on his feelings toward Cassell, who officiates both ACC and SEC games.
“I’ve got a problem when the league office puts a guy in our game that got his break in the SEC and he turned his back on the SEC to go officiate other leagues,” Martin said. “Why are we hiring that official to officiate SEC games … is Chris the only guy that pushes, does no one ever push him.”
Egbunu doesn’t make trip
Senior center John Egbunu did not make the trip to South Carolina and remains out indefinitely while rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
The Gators opted not to have the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Egbunu with them because his knee swells up when he travels. Last week, Egbunu’s knee swelled up when trying to progress from non-contact to limited contact workouts.
Freshman forward Chase Johnson (concussion protocol) and freshman center Isaiah Stokes (rehabbing ACL surgery) also remain out.
Florida got another strong effort from its bench, outscoring South Carolina’s 23-22. Freshman swingman Deaundrae Ballard, who didn’t appear in Wednesday’s game against LSU, had six points in 13 minutes while freshman point guard Mike Okauru posted a second straight strong game off the bench with eight points, a rebound and a blocked shot in 15 minutes. Bassett also chipped in with five points and a season-high seven rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. “That’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Chiozza said. … Florida outscored South Carolina 28-18 in points in the paint.