Gamecocks fall short against Gators
Entering the game, the most pressing questions had nothing to do with matchups or gameplans. Instead, the biggest mysteries were how the Gamecocks and their fans would respond in the wake of Dave Odom's retirement.
Early on, it was evident that the response was positive. The announced attendance was 12,178. The crowd was the largest and most supportive it has been since the game against Southern Cal on November 17th, the third game of the year. When he was announced before tipoff, Odom receive a loud cheer.
"Our fans fought very hard tonight," Odom said. "On behalf of our team, I am very, very appreciative for the way our fans fought, and the way they responded. I would say this very clearly, that's one step, and I hope that our fans felt like they were very much a part of this game and they want to come back and continue the process. You need that in the SEC every night."
Florida's sophomore center Marreese Speights, who led the Gators with 22 points and 13 rebounds, scored the first basket of the game, but in a sign of things to come, Zam Fredrick, who scored 19 points, hit a long three-pointer to put Carolina in front 3-2. The Gamecocks went on to hit 6-10 threes in the first half, and had a 38-30 lead with less than a minute remaining in the half. In that final minute, Florida, which shot just 3-14 from three in the first half, hit one of those long range shots, then followed it with a steal and three-point play on a Speights dunk to close to 38-36 at the half. Freshman guard Nick Calathes started the second half with another three point play for Florida. His points capped off a 9-0 run that gave the Gators a 39-38 lead, their first lead since 2-0.
"The game was won and/or lost, depending on your view, [when] we called a timeout at the end of the half," Odom said. "For whatever reason, we went haywire. We got them back in the game, and it actually extended two minutes into the second half."
Previously this season, the Gamecocks struggled to answer when opponents made big shots. In this game, they answered back. An 11-0 run by Carolina quickly followed, giving the Gamecocks their largest lead of the game, 52-43 with 14:53 left.
Florida responded once again, showing the grit of a defending champion with an 8-0 run to draw within one point. Carolina scored 9 of the next 11 points to re-establish their lead, but it was to be the Gamecocks' last gasp.
"We were fighting for our lives at that point," said Odom. "For whatever reason we didn't finish the game. They play with a very high basketball IQ, and in the clutch I'm not sure we do. We've got to play more cerebral basketball in the clutch. It's almost like we take plays off."
With just over 4 minutes remaining, Devan Downey, who scored a game-high 24 points, hit a fadeaway jumper to beat the shot clock and give Carolina a 67-65 lead. Calathes, who chipped in 21 points for the Gators, answered with a three-pointer, giving Florida the lead for good. Over the last four minutes, the Gamecocks managed to make just one more shot. Florida scored just enough down the stretch to hold off Carolina, although Downey threw up a 2/3 court shot at the buzzer that could have won the game.
- Dominique Archie played one of his better all-around games this season, scoring 14 points and grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds despite a considerable size disadvantage. It was his 3rd career double-double and 2nd this season.
- Odom opted to go big with his starting lineup. Sam Muldrow (6 points, 6 rebounds) started instead of Evka Baniulis (3 points, 2 rebounds).
- Mike Holmes played just five minutes. His only tally on the score sheet was a turnover.
- Florida pressed the Gamecocks on out of bounds plays all night, and Carolina struggled to handle it, committing 13 turnovers while forcing just 9. "It's not a terrible number, but it's too many for us," Odom said.
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