Gators return home to host South Carolina

After opening Southeastern Conference play with four of six games on the road, No. 4 Florida returns home on Wednesday night to host South Carolina at 8 p.m. The stretch goes back even further than that. Three of Florida's last 12 games have been played at home. The Gators now bring momentum with them into a stretch with four of their next five games at home.

"It means a lot," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said about the team returning to play in Gainesville. "I think we have good energy as a team when we're at home. The crowd gets us excited. So it definitely means a lot to be home. Traveling is good, but we'd definitely rather be home."

It will also be the sixth Southeastern Conference team the Gators have played this year, and the third one with a new head coach. Frank Martin surprised the college basketball world when he left Kansas State in the offseason to take the job at South Carolina.

There is familiarity between Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Martin. The Gators used to heavily recruit Miami Senior High School, where Martin served as an assistant coach from 1985-93 before serving as the head coach from 1995-99. He was involved in seven total state championships while at the school.

Donovan always recruited the school, and it paid off. The Gators landed Udonis Haslem and Brent Wright from the school with Martin always being encouraging of the program in Gainesville.

"I've got a lot of respect for Frank," Donovan said. "Frank and I have known each other for a long time from our early days here when he was at Miami High. We recruited his program quite a bit. He was always very, very supportive of his players coming here and playing here at Florida.

"I've always been appreciative that he felt that way about our program to actually endorse and be positive about our players coming here."

When Darrin Horn was fired and Martin took over the program, the Gamecocks started to portray some of the traits Martin demands from his teams. They play tough defense and are active on the glass. South Carolina is third in the SEC with a +7.5 rebounding margin, just behind Florida's +8.6.

"As Frank has moved on, he kind of has his own system, style and how he wants to play. It's a lot like the way his high school teams played at Miami Senior. They're going to really, really guard you. They're a terrific rebounding team. They work really hard at it."

The Gamecocks are led by guard Bruce Ellington, who led the South Carolina football team with 600 receiving yards in the fall. The junior is averaging 10.3 points and 3.2 assists since returning to the basketball court.

"I respect him a lot," Boynton said of Ellington. "I've seen a couple of his football games — pretty good. He equals it out on the basketball court. Playing against him in the previous years, as a freshman, he gave us problems. He's a quick player. He can shoot, the mid-range and the three. I respect his game. We've got to contain him."

Senior forward Lakeem Jackson is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds. Freshman forward Michael Carrera is averaging 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, and Donovan called him "a tough, hard-nosed kid up front."

The Gators are expected to go through the game without junior forward Casey Prather (high ankle sprain), and they're facing a team similar to the ones Donovan has watched for many years at the high school level. The Gamecocks obviously have more talent than those teams, but they play with the same tenacity Martin wants on the floor.

"They really put themselves in a position to win every single game and I think that's a credit to Frank, their staff, and to the guys in their program," Donovan said.

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