''I'm kind of happy it happened because we won the game and it was a woeful shooting night,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ''We almost got caught.''
The Gators led by 17 points midway through the first half, but missed enough shots to allow South Carolina to slowly whittle it down to five with 2:51 remaining. Brenton Williams had a chance to make it a five-point game with 1:13 remaining, but he missed the first of two free throws. Williams also had a costly turnover on the previous possession. He was 2-of-9 shooting.
Florida made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1:09 to close it out.
''We need these kinds of wins,'' Boynton said. ''In the past we let some home wins slip away. I think we learned from those.''
The Gators shot 37.3 percent from the floor, their second-lowest total of the season. The biggest problem came from 3-point range. Boynton was 4 of 8 from behind the arc, but his teammates combined to go 3 for 20.
''It's not going to be pretty every night,'' Florida's Erving Walker said. ''South Carolina did a good job of scrambling and switching defenses.''
The Gamecocks squandered several chances in the final few minutes. Maybe the toughest to swallow was when Walker came up with a loose ball - the Gators seemingly got all of them - and found Beal slicing through the lane. Beal dunked it, got fouled and completed the three-point play to put the Gators up 59-50.
Beal finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Walker had 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
''The challenge is when you're playing a team of Florida's caliber and you've dug yourself in a hole,'' South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said.
The Gators built their big lead with a huge rebounding advantage and by making four of their first seven 3-point attempts. But they went cold from long range in the second half.
South Carolina couldn't take advantage.
''We just couldn't get over that hump every time we cut the lead down,'' Harris said. ''We were always in that same spot, so it was hard for us to get over that hump.''
Florida dominated the opening 10 minutes.
The Gators made 3-pointers, got nearly every loose ball and took advantage of a 14-1 rebounding margin to build a 27-10 lead.
Nothing went wrong for Florida early. The press took South Carolina out of rhythm, and the Gators seemed to find wide-open shooters all over the floor. And even when they did miss, they got just about every rebound. Florida ended the first half with 14 offensive boards - more than Donovan's team had in its previous three games combined.
''The main thing that really hurt us the most was rebounding,'' Harris said. ''That is what killed us the most.''
The Gamecocks eventually settled down and started slicing into the lead.
Brian Richardson hit a 3-pointer and a jumper, and then Cooke found his stroke. Cooke sank a mid-range shot, and then converted a three-point play on the next possession. Cooke flipped in a shot over his head, got fouled and knocked down the free throw.
R.J. Slawson continued South Carolina's late surge with a layup in the final minute. The Gamecocks ended the half on a 9-1 run and suddenly trailed 37-28 after looking like they would get blown out.
Florida contributed to its problems late in the first half with poor shot selection and missed free throws. Beal missed three from the charity stripe in the final 5:48, and Walker missed both of his in the final minute.
Cooke made it a six-point game, 37-31, with a three-point play to open the second half.
The Gators responded, though.
Walker made consecutive floaters in the lane, and Beal tipped in a miss. The game went back and forth the rest of the way. The biggest different was Florida started making free throws and finished 23 for 32 from the stripe.
''We let up,'' Boynton said. ''In the first half we were hitting shots and everybody was into it. In the second half, we stopped hitting them and had defensive letdowns. ... But we found a way to win, and that's all that matters.''