Gators Can't Stop South Carolina's Threes

Dave Odom's explanation for what happened Wednesday night at the O'Connell was pretty simple. "We take away the things we can take away and we just fake the rest of it," said the South Carolina coach whose team is an improbable 2-0 against the Florida Gators this year, 1-6 against the rest of the Southeastern Conference.

Coming into the game, Odom felt the Gamecocks had to find a way to keep Florida point guard Taurean Green on the perimeter and limit his three-point opportunities if they were to have any chance to win against the sixth-ranked Gators. Odom was well aware that when Green penetrates in the lane he either gets to the foul line or dishes off to one of Florida's big guys for an easy shot. By keeping Green out of the lane, it enabled the smaller Gamecocks to keep Florida's tall front line in check.

"We flattened out our defense and we took away the three from him," said Odom after the Gamecocks held Green to 14 points and just three assists in their 71-67 victory that put an end to Florida's 20-game home winning streak. Just one game earlier, Green had gotten into the lane early and often against Kentucky, torching the Wildcats for 29 points and nine assists. Wednesday night against South Carolina (12-10, 3-6 SEC), Green only got into the lane twice. He scored on a driving layup in the first half and he was able to penetrate and dish off to Noah for a dunk. Other than that, South Carolina's strategy worked to perfection.

The defensive strategy and Florida's inability to defend the perimeter proved to be the undoing of the Gators, who fell to 20-3 overall and 6-3 in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division. With Green neutralized, Florida struggled for points and on the perimeter the Gators had no answers for South Carolina's hot shooters. The Gamecocks nailed 10 of their 21 three-pointers compared to a 6-16 shooting night for the Gators beyond the arc. The 12-point differential in three-point shooting helped the Gamecocks overcome Florida's huge advantage at the foul line (Gators shot 19-24 while South Carolina only hit 9-15).

"This was all about the three-point line and our inability to guard it," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan, obviously disappointed that the Gators couldn't find a way to stop the Gamecocks in critical situations.

It was the three-ball that got the Gamecocks back into the game in the first half when Florida was on the verge of cracking the game wide open. The Gators used a 6-0 burst to take a 28-20 lead when Tarence Kinsey knocked down a three to get the Gamecocks back on the comeback road. In the final 4:30 of the half, South Carolina knocked down four more threes including two from a most improbable source, Bryce Sheldon, to take a 39-37 lead at the half.

Sheldon hadn't hit a three-pointer since January 8 when he hit three in a loss to Tennessee. He hit both his three-pointers in the first half and added two more in the second including a critical trey with 3:48 remaining in the game. He was averaging 3.6 points per game but he lit up the Gators for 14.

"The greatest equalizer in college basketball doesn't make a difference about talent or who's better than who … it's the three-point line," said Donovan. "To me it's the number one thing I look at on the stat sheet, the three-point line.

"If you look at it they outscored us by 12 points from the three-point line and I think any time a team can come into your building and shoot 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from the three-point line you have to have a very good night on offense."

Florida didn't have a great night on offense but it was good enough to win if the Gators could have gotten the job done defensively. Florida shot 45.7 percent (21-46), had more assists than turnovers (16-14) and had the big advantage at the foul line, plus they forced South Carolina into 18 turnovers.

Numbers like those usually result in a win at home but not on this night. It seemed that every time the Gators were ready to take the legs out from under the Gamecocks, Florida would miss a golden opportunity on the offensive end and South Carolina would counter with a timely three. The Gators had a 56-53 lead just under eight minutes to go but Florida squandered a possession and South Carolina tied the game up at 56 on a three by Sheldon.

Florida forged back ahead on a layup by Chris Richard and a dunk by Joakim Noah with 4:12 remaining but the Gamecocks came back to knock down threes on consecutive possessions. Sheldon got one with 3:48 to go and Kinsey followed that up with a three that put South Carolina ahead, 62-60.

The Gamecocks led 64-62 when Tre Kelly made one of the defensive plays of the game for South Carolina. Noah got the ball under the basket where he was in position to go up and dunk but Kelly sneaked in from behind to steal the ball. At the other end of the floor, Kelly was fouled and he hit both shots to put South Carolina ahead by four, 66-62.

Florida answered with a dunk by Noah with 37 seconds left. Florida called time out to set up its press but Balkman ran the baseline and got the ball inbounds to Dwayne Day. Day was immediately double-teamed but he found a way to split the trap and launch a long pass down court to Balkman who was hammered by Al Horford going up for a layup. Balkman hit one of two free throws and South Carolina got possession. Kelly was fouled immediately but he sank both free throws to give the Gamecocks a 69-64 cushion with 25.8 seconds to go.

The Gators got a three from Lee Humphrey with 20.4 seconds to go, bringing Florida back within two points (69-67) but once the Gamecocks got the ball inbounds to Kelly, there was no choice but to foul. He hit one of his two free throws setting Florida up for a chance to send the game into overtime with 19 seconds to go.

Donovan wanted Humphrey to take the final shot but South Carolina blanketed him. Green went up for a three with seven seconds left but Brandon Wallace got a piece of the shot, ending Florida's chances.

"It wasn't the best shot but it's hard when you have just 15-18 seconds left to get a clear look," said Donovan. "I wish we had done a better job of finishing the play out. We never got to the ending of the play and they did a good job on the perimeter.

"Taurean probably should have driven the ball and created some level of penetration and space but we didn't do that. The game didn't come down to the last possession there."

What the game did come down to was Florida's inability to defend the perimeter and to use its superior size to hammer the Gamecocks on the inside. The 6-11 Noah had 15 points to lead Florida but Horford (6-9) contributed only six and the two of them combined for only 10 rebounds. Despite their size disadvantage, the Gamecocks outrebounded the Gators, 29-24.

"It was one of those games where we did enough to win the game offensively," said Donovan. "If you look at the stat sheet --- 46 per cent (from the field), 38 per cent (from the three point line) and almost 80 percent from the free throw line … that's good enough to win at home. You have to defend and rebound better than we did and if you look at it defending the three-point line and rebounding the basketball really is what caused us to lose the game."

The Gators have a couple of days to regroup before they host LSU Saturday afternoon at the O'Connell Center.

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