Too Little Too Late; Gators Fall To SC

Call it a case of too little, too late for Florida's fifth-ranked Gators in Columbia Wednesday night. By the time they got their offense rolling and the rally in high gear, they were trying to dig their way out of a hole that was way too deep. Even an impressive finish that included four straight three-pointers couldn't bring Florida back all the way as South Carolina hustled its way to a 68-62 Southeastern Conference victory.

For the Gators, it was their second straight defeat after a 17-0 start to the season. Florida will try to regroup in the next couple of days before the Gators face Vanderbilt in the O'Connell Center Saturday. Florida dropped to 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina earned its second SEC win in six tries and improved to 11-8 overall. Prior to Wednesday night, the Gators had beaten South Carolina nine straight times, a streak that dated back to the 2002 season.

Florida was in an offensive funk most of the game. Except for a reasonably impressive start to the game when the Gators jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the first 7:32, Florida played like anything but the team leading the SEC in scoring and field goal percentage.

The Gators took that nine-point lead on a follow shot by Chris Richard with 12:28 remaining in the first half. By the time the Gators hit another field goal on a steal and a layup by freshman Walter Hodge, 9:24 had clicked off the clock. Hodge's layup cut South Carolina's lead to 23-21 but Florida had little more in the first half tank in the final 3:04 and trailed the Gamecocks, 29-23, at the half.

South Carolina roared out of the locker room to go on a 9-2 run in the first 2:09 of the second half, extending their lead to double digits at 38-25. Florida looked dazed and confused in the first couple of minutes but after a timeout, Florida looked to have righted the offensive ship somewhat. Back to back three pointers from Lee Humphrey and Hodge brought Florida back within seven at 38-31 but South Carolina scored 10 of the next 12 points to take a 48-33 lead..

Florida rallied again to close within seven with its best offensive run since the opening minutes. Two free throws each by Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah along with stickbacks by Richard and Al Horford made the score respectable at 48-41, quieting the South Carolina crowd.

Once again, though, South Carolina had answers, doubling up the Gators on a 14-7 run that gave the Gamecocks what seemed like a very comfortable 14-point lead at 62-48 with 1:55 to go.

That's when things got interesting.

Green got things going with the first of his three straight three-pointers and Hodge followed with a three of his own with 45.9 seconds. Defensively, Florida couldn't come up with steals so the Gators were forced to foul and South Carolina proved more than accommodating. Over that stretch of four straight three-balls by the Gators, South Carolina was only 6-9 from the foul line, going only 1-2 on four of the Gamecocks' five possessions.

Hodge's three brought Florida within five points at 65-60. After a pair of free throws by Tarence Kinsey stretched it out to 67-60 with 45.3 seconds left, Horford got a layup with 38.1 seconds to cut it back once more to five points.

The Gators caught a break when Tre Kelly only hit one of two free throws with 27.4 seconds remaining but Florida couldn't connect on three straight shots on its next possession and that sealed it for South Carolina.

Three statistics stood out mightily --- offensive rebounds, turnovers and free throws.

Even though the stat sheet shows that Florida closed fast to win the rebounding battle at 30-29, the smaller Gamecocks cleaned up on the offensive boards with a 12-5 advantage, earning at least 12 second chance points.

Florida also had a second straight game of lackadaisical ball handling. Just as turnovers proved costly against Tennessee, the Gators sloppiness with the ball was a leading factor in South Carolina's win. The Gators turned the ball over 17 times while South Carolina kept itself in the game by committing only eight turnovers.

South Carolina got to the foul line for 26 shots (made 14) while the Gators had a perfect night, but only had 10 free throw attempts.

For the game, Florida was 22-45 (48.9 percent) from the field and 8-21 (38.1 percent) from three point land. South Carolina hit 42.1 percent from the field (24-57) and just 6-20 from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks' superiority on the offensive boards showed with the 12 extra shots from the field.

Green's late flurry allowed him to finish as Florida's leading scorer with 17 points. He also finished with seven assists. Noah had 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Hodge's 4-4 shooting from the field gave him 10 points for the game.

South Carolina's leading scorers were Kinsey (19) and Renaldo Balkman, who had 14 off the bench.

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