COLUMBIA, S.C. – For an afternoon, at least, Florida delivered blows instead of taking them, stood its ground rather than giving in.
The Gators maintained the edge they showed earlier in the week with a smothering defensive performance in a 65-41 win over South Carolina before 14,629 at Colonial Life Arena.
How good were the Gators defensively Saturday? It was the second-fewest points the Gators have allowed in three seasons under Mike White and the fewest against an SEC opponent. Florida matched a season-high with 10 blocked shots and grabbed a season-high 35 defensive rebounds while posting its best rebounding margin of the season (46-24).
“We’ve had games where we played like that, but we haven’t been able to put it together for the full 40,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “We were able to do that today. That was the first time we were able to play like that for a full game.
“We needed that. It shows we can do it. We know where the bar stands for us and what kind of team we can be. We can still improve in some areas and that’s what we’re going to try to do every day, come out with that same attitude, come out better.”
The only time Florida allowed fewer points under White was when it beat Virginia 65-39 in the Round of 32 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. In that performance, UF’s season was on the line. In this performance, Florida played like its season was on the line.
“If you play this hard, does it guarantee success, absolutely not,” White said. “But it gives you a chance night in and night out.”
The Gators (17-8, 8-4 SEC) avenged a 77-72 home loss to South Carolina on Jan. 24 by holding the Gamecocks to 27.8-percent shooting from the floor and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (2-13). South Carolina made 11 3-pointers and shot 52.4 percent from 3-point range in the win in Gainesville.
“We really focused on not letting them get any comfortable 3s off,” Chiozza said. “They are not a great 3-point shooting team, but they hit a bunch against us last time and most of them were wide open. We just tried to let them not get any easy shots.”
Chiozza led the Gators with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while junior guard Jalen Hudson also scored 12 points. The Gators raced to a 41-20 halftime lead, getting 19 bench points. All 10 of UF’s players who appeared in the game scored in the first half.
But the story of the game was defense. South Carolina guard Wesley Myers, who scored 22 points in Gainesville, was held scoreless in 20 minutes on the floor. Florida also was able to get junior forward Chris Silva in early foul trouble. Silva, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Gainesville, was held to 10 points and five rebounds.
“It was all of us doing our jobs,” Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes said. “Our job is to fight around screens, play in the post, guard in the post and we definitely did that.”
Florida built off its 73-64 win over LSU on Wednesday in Gainesville in which the Gators held the Tigers to just three points in the final 5:40.
“The last two games we’ve been as connected as we’ve been all year,” White said.
Florida set the tone it wasn’t going to get pushed around early, blocking a pair of shots within the game’s first three minutes.
“From the tip, locked in, in a stance, getting to shooters at a higher level, just playing with as much energy as we’ve played with all year,” White said.
Florida maintained its defensive edge in the second half, which has been an issue in prior games. The Gators never let South Carolina cut their lead below 17 points in the second half, holding the Gamecocks to 22.2 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes. Defensively, Florida demonstrated better communication in the second half away from UF’s bench.
“We know that sometimes because we’re a little further from the bench some things go unsaid,” Hayes said. “Basically, we just had to say everything, what are you doing, who are you supposed to be guarding. As long as somebody is talking how can you go wrong?”
White said Florida’s effort on the boards was a result of five guys doing their jobs and going after the ball with two hands. Against a physical South Carolina team, Florida posted its first positive rebounding margin since outrebounding Arkansas 40-36 on Jan. 17.
“I’ve never coached a team that got beat by 20-something on the glass,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
South Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) dropped its fifth straight game. Martin opened his news conference apologizing to fans for his team’s performance.
“We showed up to play, but then Florida said we’re not losing to you guys again,” Martin said. “They ratcheted up the competitiveness of the game we looked for the backdoor and snuck out of the fight.”
|FLORIDA 65, SOUTH CAROLINA 41|
Stone 0-2 3-3 3, Hayes 2-2 2-6 6, Chiozza 5-7 2-2 12, Koulechov 4-7 0-0 9, Hudson 5-12 1-1 12, Bassett 2-5 0-0 4, Gak 0-0 1-2 1, Ballard 2-3 2-2 6, Okauru 3-8 0-0 8, Allen 1-6 2-2 4. Totals 24-52 13-18 65.
|SOUTH CAROLINA (13-12)|
Minaya 1-3 0-0 2, Silva 4-12 2-3 10, Kotsar 2-10 1-2 5, Hinson 0-1 0-0 0, Gravett 1-3 0-0 2, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Haase 1-3 0-0 2, Cudd 0-0 3-6 3, Beatty 0-3 0-0 0, Booker 6-13 3-4 17, Myers 0-4 0-0 0, Holden 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-54 9-15 41.
Halftime_Florida 41-20. 3-Point Goals_Florida 4-13 (Okauru 2-4, Koulechov 1-1, Hudson 1-4, Chiozza 0-1, Allen 0-3), South Carolina 2-13 (Booker 2-7, Minaya 0-1, Beatty 0-1, Gravett 0-1, Kotsar 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 43 (Bassett, Chiozza, Koulechov 7), South Carolina 23 (Silva, Kotsar 5). Assists_Florida 9 (Allen, Chiozza 3), South Carolina 7 (Minaya, Gravett 2). Total Fouls_Florida 16, South Carolina 16. Technicals_South Carolina coach Frank Martin. A_14,629 (18,000).