South Carolina again pulls off upset in Gainesville

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida's Anthony Duruji sails in to dunk the ball on an out-of-bounds play Wednesday against South Carolina at Exactech Arena.

South Carolina closed on a 13-1 run Wednesday to upset No. 23 Florida 72-66, snapping the Gators' four-game win streak in the process. 

Florida sophomore point guard Tre Mann had 17 points and Noah Locke poured in 15 on 5-for-7 shooting, but it wasn't enough at Exactech Arena.

Up next

Who: Florida (10-5, 5-4 SEC) at LSU (11-6, 6-4)

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

“We’re better than that, and we’ve got to get back to making sound decisions,” UF coach Mike White said. “In the biggest moments of the game, turnovers are what killed us.”

The Gators trailed by 10 points early in the first half, but would lead by six with less than seven minutes to play before a late collapse.

Mann, celebrating his 20th birthday, also provided eight rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes, but shot just 6-for-16 from the field. 

Junior forward Colin Castleton scored 11 points, hauled in seven rebounds and blocked seven shots, giving him his third game of six blocks or more in Florida’s last six contests. 

The Gators took a 65-59 lead with 6:37 to play on Omar Payne’s fastbreak dunk, and it appeared as if they had all the momentum and would earn its fifth-straight win after Tyree Appleby was fouled in transition after a steal on the other end, bringing the sparse crowd to their feet. 

But UF would go cold from the floor when it mattered most, and the Gamecocks would proceed to go on a 10-0 run over the ensuing 3:40 of play before Mann’s free throw with 2:05 remaining made it a three-point game. 

“They came out and out-toughed us. They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond well,” Mann said. “So, if they see us doing that, they’re going to do that the whole time. And that’s what they did, they didn’t stop after they saw we didn’t respond well.”

UF needed a stop, and it got one, but Keyshawn Bryant hauled in USC’s 12th offensive rebound of the night and finished easily at the rim to help the Gamecocks pick up just their second win in the last six games. 

The Gators were outscored, 50-30, in the paint by the Gamecocks, a disparity which was created late as the teams were at one point tied at 28 points apiece. 

Florida will look to get back in the win column when it retakes the floor Saturday at LSU for a 2 p.m. tip-off. 

What We Learned

White has been transparent about UF’s deficiencies on the defensive end this season, and he didn’t hold back when it came to criticizing Florida’s attempts to slow South Carolina’s offense. 

The Gators scored just two points in the paint down the stretch to the Gamecocks’ 20 and allowed 13 offensive rebounds. 

“It’s not good enough. We’ve got to take more pride there,” White said. “This team, this program, for a long time has been a high-level defensive program. We took a big drop-off last year, and our numbers right now are about where they were last year.”

UF ranks No. 11 in the SEC in rebounding, although it's third in blocked shots, averaging 5.9 blocks per game. Florida’s 12 blocks against the Gamecocks now stands as the most in program history in an SEC game and is the most in a game since blocking 12 against Florida A&M on Dec. 17, 2006. 

White said the Gators have demonstrated they’re capable of defending successively, yet the they continue to struggle when it comes to maintaining said performance. 

“We got off to a decent start at times. There will be some spurts within games, and even games in their entirety, where we’ll say ‘Damn, we showed what we can be defensively,’ like our last game,” White said. “We’ve got to guard the bounce one-on-one at a higher level, and then we’ve got to finish defensive block-outs with two-handed rebounds, which we’ve been very average at as well.” 

Atypical offense, too

And it wasn’t just Florida’s defense that wasn’t up to par against the Gamecocks, as White had plenty to say about UF’s play on the offensive end as well. 

The Gators hit just 10 of their 31 shot attempts in the second half, five less than they converted in the first half in taking a 40-35 lead at the midpoint, and scored 14 fewer points in the second half than they did in the opening 20 minutes. 

“We collected some stops, we got some scores, and it felt like we were gaining control of the game,” White said, “and we made some really tough decisions with the basketball that led to pick-sixes. I’m anxious to go watch it. Some uncharacteristic stuff, where we broke off a couple plays, and credit those guys for forcing turnovers.”

It begged the question whether the Gators, having won four in a row, including two over top-15 teams, had let their guard down in a sense after experiencing recent success. 

Mann agreed it was a possibility, if not a trend. 

“I don’t think we were focused. We were missing a lot of lay-ups, wide-open shots, and they were making everything that we was missing,” Mann said. “It’s been tough for us this year. Every time we get a little bit of success, we tend to come out and play bad and lose focus, and I feel like that’s what happened again tonight. We just weren’t focused, and they came out hungry. They just punked us.” 

His head coach wasn’t so sure, however, of the assertion the team wasn’t focused, though White did acknowledge South Carolina seemed to simply want this one more. 

“I don’t know if I fully agree with it. I think these guys really worked the last two days, and they were focused,” White said, before praising the Gamecocks’ effort. “They beat us to the big loose balls and rebounds down the stretch. They forced the turnovers when needed.”

Lewis struggles early, can’t recover

When sophomore Scottie Lewis picked up his second foul with 13:38 to play in the first half, he knew what was set to occur. 

Lewis was quickly subbed out having played just two minutes, where he proceeded to put on his black warm-up T-shirt over his jersey, knowing he’d most likely sit until after halftime.

He would, in fact, return when the second half began — though things wouldn’t improve for the former five-star prospect. 

Lewis missed all four of his shot attempts in the second half and finished the game with a lone point — a disappointing performance considering the defensive-minded wing was coming along at the other end, averaging double-digits in scoring for the Gators prior to missing four games due to health and safety protocol. 

“His fouls, he probably would have played some more minutes, of course,” White said of Lewis. “I thought he had some looks that just didn’t go for him.”

White turned to a variety of line-ups, including using freshmen Niels Lane and Samson Ruzhentsev, as a result of Lewis being limited due to foul trouble and because junior Osayi Osifo was a late scratch. 

UF’s coach said the junior college signee injured his ankle against the Mountaineers, resulting in his absence, which he believed hindered the Gators in more ways than one would think. 

“Osayi’s intensity level, he’s a spark, and I think that probably as much as anybody on the team does stuff positively that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” White said, “so when I was told before the game that he wouldn’t play, I knew that would be detrimental to us, and I don’t know if his teammates fully understand what he brings in those areas. He’s been very good for us lately.”

South Carolina 72, No. 23 Florida 66

SOUTH CAROLINA (5-6, 3-4 SEC)

Minaya 1-6 0-0 2, Leveque 3-5 0-0 6, Couisnard 4-12 0-1 9, Lawson 9-16 2-5 22, Woods 6-10 0-0 12, Bryant 4-9 0-0 8, Hannibal 0-3 4-4 4, McCreary 3-6 0-0 6, Nelson 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 31-68 6-10 72.

FLORIDA (10-5, 5-4)

Castleton 4-12 3-4 11, Payne 5-5 0-2 10, Appleby 2-9 0-1 6, Locke 5-9 2-2 15, Mann 6-16 3-4 17, Lewis 0-4 1-2 1, Duruji 3-4 0-0 6, Ruzhentsev 0-2 0-0 0, Glover 0-0 0-0 0, Lane 0-1 0-0 0, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-62 9-15 66.

Halftime_Florida 40-35. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 4-18 (Lawson 2-6, Nelson 1-1, Couisnard 1-5, Bryant 0-1, Woods 0-1, Minaya 0-4), Florida 7-25 (Locke 3-7, Appleby 2-5, Mann 2-7, Duruji 0-1, Lane 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Ruzhentsev 0-2). Rebounds_South Carolina 39 (Lawson 8), Florida 31 (Mann 8). Assists_South Carolina 10 (Minaya, Couisnard 2), Florida 13 (Appleby 4). Total Fouls_South Carolina 17, Florida 15.

Florida guard Noah Locke shoots a 3 past Gamecocks guard AJ Lawson during the first half Wednesday at Exactech Arena.