Hot Shooting Leads Gators Past South Carolina

It may have taken one of Florida's best shooting nights of the season, but the Gators were able to hold of South Carolina in a must-win game for their NCAA Tournament chances on Wednesday night. Florida shot nearly 60 percent from the floor in an 85-82 win against the Gamecocks.

All five starters finished in double figures led by Nick Calathes who scored 20 as the Gators (20-7, 7-5 SEC) grabbed their 20th win of the season. The Gamecocks (12-13, 4-7 SEC) shot the ball well as well, making 50 percent of their shots, but Florida's timely shooting and their free throw shooting down the stretch snapped their two game losing streak.

"I thought a big key coming into the game was our ability to guard the 3-point line," head coach Billy Donovan said. "When they shoot the ball well they stay in the game. They made some shots, but we shot the ball from behind the line as well. It was a good win for our guys."

Florida started the game with back-to-back turnovers, but knocked down two of their first three shots. Both were long range shots by Walter Hodge who scored 11 first half points and finished with 14. He then converted on a fast break layup after a beautiful pass from Calathes who dished out seven assists to cap a 7-0 run by Florida/ It gave the Gators a 10-5 lead with 16:30 remaining in the first half.

The Gators extended their lead to 12 points after Jai Lucas drove and scored just before the midpoint of the first half. But the Gamecocks charged back with a 16-6 run, narrowing Florida's margin to just one point, 32-31 with 5:21 remaining.

Florida responded behind the hot outside shooting of freshman Adam Allen who hit three consecutive 3-point baskets with his last 3 stretching the Gator lead to 11 points, 42-31. The Gators took a 12-point margin into the locker room, 48-36.

Florida made 66.7 percent of their first half shots and made 7-of-11 from behind the arc.

"Any time you shoot the ball well it changes the complexion of any team," Donovan said. "I thought our guys were ready and we got a great lift form Adam Allen off the bench. The second half was less about the defense and more about our rebounding. I don't think we rebounded well when we had a chance to stretch the lead."

The Gators extended the lead to 17 points, 63-46, with 14:35 left. Hodge, Calathes and Dan Werner all knocked down 3s and Jonathan Mitchell converted after a great pass from Hodge on the break.

But the Gators, who lost the battle on the boards, couldn't keep South Carolina down for long. The Gamecocks went on another scoring spurt to cut the lead to eight with seven minutes left. With 3:15 left, the Gamecocks got out on the fast break, ending with a slam by Mike Holmes and Florida's lead was cut to just three points, 75-72.

Werner knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:11 remaining to stretch the lead, and a made free throw by Calathes put the Gators up seven, 79-72, with 1:39 left. The SEC's leading scorer Devan Downey made a great move with 42 seconds left in the lane to cut Florida's lead back to five points, 79-74.

After Lucas made 1-of-2 from the line, former Florida Air Academy standout Evaldas Baniulis knocked down a 3 with 28.5 seconds left to cut the lead in half, 80-77. Baniulis knocked down another 3-pointer, but the Gators came through at the line, making 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds to preserve the win.

With seven seconds remaining and South Carolina with the ball trailing by three points, Donovan made a crucial decision to foul Downey instead of allowing the Gamecocks to get off a 3-point shot. The call proved to work after Downey missed the front end of the one-and-one and time expired.

"Every situation is different," Donovan said. "I think you can make an argument that it's good to foul in that situation or make them take a Hail Mary. I thought with guys like Downey and Zam Frederick, we couldn't afford to allow them to take a 3. If he makes the first one, then you're playing for the miss on the free throw."

The Gators now have a week off to prepare for their final stretch of four games, starting with a trip to Athens next Wednesday.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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