Gators Take Sole Possession of First Place

The Florida Gators suffered a devastating loss during their last matchup with South Carolina, but this time was different despite a little scare towards the end. Florida had a nine-point lead with less than a minute to play, but the Gamecocks were able to cut it to two points with 19-seconds left before Florida mad some clutch free throws to hold onto a 97-93 win at the O'Dome.

Six Gators scored in double figures in Florida's biggest offensive output of the season. Nick Calathes led the way with 22 points, and Chandler Parsons redeemed himself for missing a crucial free throw in the two teams' first meeting by posting a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

"This game was huge just with everything that happened the last time we played them," Parsons said. "We wanted to finish it 6-2 heading into Kentucky."

The Gators improve to 19-4 on the season, heading into a huge matchup with the Wildcats on the road on Saturday night.

The two teams exchanged baskets for most of the first half in an up-tempo game. Florida put together an 8-2 run in the final four minutes of the half to open up an eight-point lead. They shot better than 50 percent in the first half, but two three-point baskets helped the Gamecocks cut the lead to four at the break, 49-45.

The second half was more of the same as the game featured 17 ties, but Florida was finally able to open it up a bit in the final 10 minutes. Calathes and Ervin Walker both hit from behind the arc, helping Florida open up a nine-point lead with 5:20 left. Walker would finish with a career-high 18 points, hitting 3-of-5 from behind the arc and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

The Gators would maintain the comfortable margin into the final minute of the game before reigning SEC Player of the Week Devan Downey went crazy. South Carolina's point guard scored 11 points in the final 48-seconds to cut Florida's lead to two points. Downey would finish with 33 points.

"He's a great payer and you have to give him credit," Walter Hodge said after the game. "Big time players make big plays and he made big plays."

But in the final minute, Hodge made four straight free throws to give the Gators just enough to hold on. Hodge finished with 12 points.

"I'm always the last one to shoot free throws," Hodge said. "I'm used to it. I made the first two and I just said to myself that I if make them we win the game."

In addition to his team-high 22 points, Calathes also grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists. Alex Tyus had a big game, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven boards. Dan Werner also scored 10 with three steals.

With Kentucky's loss to Mississippi State also on Tuesday, the Gators take sole possession of first place in the SEC East.

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