Jim Dedmon / USA TODAY Sports

Empty possessions doom Gators in overtime vs. Gamecocks

The Florida Gators (17-10, 8-6 SEC) came back from a 30-13 deficit with seven minutes left in the first half and scored 20 straight points to end the half. That 33-30 lead would grow to 35-30 with two made free throws from Dorian Finney-Smith at the start of the second half. From that point on the game was back and forth and South Carolina (22-5, 9-5 SEC) would finally prevail 73-69 in overtime.

The one thing this Gator team does for the most part night in and night out is play hard and head coach Mike White was proud of his team’s effort.

“We played really hard and battled,” White started on the Gators’ IMG Radio Network post-game show. “We were on the verge of getting blown out. I thought we played tentative and didn’t respond well to their initial punch early in the game. South Carolina came out like gang busters and they were prepared to play with a lot of emotion after a couple of losses.

“After the first ten minutes of the game I thought we settled in and played with poise and ton of toughness to come in here and out rebound these guys, it really gave us a chance. I am proud of the physical effort. Our guys really laid it on the line. We didn’t do enough offensively and had some empty possessions down the stretch. We had a few key mistakes defensively and South Carolina is a very good team. They made big plays down the stretch.”

Florida had double digit possessions in the game where they struggled getting a decent shot before the shot clock went off or way too many times they got no shot at all. This issue reared its ugly head in each of the last three possessions of the game for the Gators in overtime when they had a chance to win it.

The other issue was just plain shooting the ball and getting it in the basket. Florida shot just 35.6% from the field in the game. Sophomore forward Devin Robinson was the only one that shot well from the field hitting on six of 11 shots including three of six from 3-point land.

“South Carolina is a defense that prides itself on really protecting the paint, they really swarm the basketball,” White said.  Even on attacking of close-outs even when we were able to wipe the basketball and get inside the arc… they just did a good job of collapsing on the ball and all of a sudden we have open shooters and it results in some open looks for us, but unfortunately it’s probably what South Carolina wanted because we aren’t the greatest shooting team. Devin got himself going and Chris Chiozza hit a couple late, we just didn’t hit enough.”

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led all Gators in scoring and rebounds with 18 and 13 respectively. Robinson had 17 points and nine rebounds. Chris Chiozza was the only other Gator in double digits with 11.

“Dorian had another good game, Devin Robinson had one of his better games,” White said. “Our guards did a good job of finding those guys and they converted especially in transition.”

The Gators stuttered in their half-court offense with time running out on the shot clock way too many times, but defensively they played strong most of the game and that did turn into some transitional buckets.

“We were really good just getting stops and getting out in transition offense,” the head coach said. “Not having to go against a set man or zone… they played most of the game in a 2-3 or a 2-2 match, and did a good job in those facets. When we were able to get stops it allowed us to get into transition offense and make plays.”

Florida did shoot unusually well from the free throw line, but really didn’t take advantage of that in overtime. The Gators hit 80% of their free throws, going 12 of 15, but in the extra period, they never got to the line.  

“We have to do a better job of drawing fouls and putting pressure on their defense,” White said.

The Gamecocks were led by all-SEC candidate forward Michael Carrera with his tenacious play and 20 points to go along with 15 rebounds. The inside play of Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius both scored in double figures and combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds. This was helped in part by foul trouble on Florida big man John Egbunu who logged only 22 minutes on the court.

The Gators will next host Vanderbilt Tuesday at 7 p.m. and the game will be aired live on the SEC Network. 

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