Combined effort gives USC win over Gators

With their road woes continuing this past weekend, the Gamecocks faced a massive game on Wednesday night at home against the Florida Gators. Darrin Horn's team entered the game 10-2 at Colonial Life Arena this season, and did not disappoint, pulling out a huge 77-71 victory over Billy Donovan and his team.

Gamecock fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when they saw senior guard Devan Downey was not only able to play on his injured ankle, but once again able to play at a high level. The senior contributed 24 points on the night, and came up with several key rebounds in the second half.

Perhaps sensing that Downey may not be able to carry the team on this night, Brandis Raley-Ross turned up his game as well, finishing with 20 points, and making 4 3-pointers in the second half. This game marked the first time this year that two Gamecocks have hit the 20 point barrier in the same game. It was a strong second half effort that pulled the Gamecocks through, after missing all 9 3-point attempts in the first half.

"For us it's a terrific team win and team effort," added Darrin Horn after the game. "Devan has been so good and special that sometimes when our entire team is putting forth in the games we have won what the team needs to win, (it) has gone overlooked. Tonight was a good example. Our guys continued to fight and play and find a way to win."

Raley-Ross finished with 17 of his 20 coming in the second half.

Early on the game continued to mirror the trend of close games between Florida and South Carolina, with both teams trading baskets in the early minutes. Florida has been very successful this year in SEC play when they have a positive rebounding margin, and they dominated the Gamecocks on the boards early on.

However, USC got physical with the Gators, and was able to close the rebounding margin over the course of the game. Sam Muldrow was a big reason for this, and contributed 8 rebounds while consistently cleaning up on the offensive end and finishing with 16 points.

Florida had opened up a 6-point lead 8 minutes into the first half, but the Gamecocks made two quick baskets to cut their deficit to 2. Sam Muldrow threw down a dunk off a rebound, igniting the crowd and forcing Florida coach Billy Donavan to call a timeout.

The Gamecocks were able to close not only the rebounding margin, but the score margin as well later in the half. Despite Florida shooting about 30% better from the field in the opening half, Darrin Horn's squad clawed back to trail only 35-31 as Sam Muldrow added a layup with time expiring.

Devan Downey did not show too many effects of the ankle injury he suffered during the week, chipping in 8 points in the first half. The Gamecocks were able to snag 6 steals to help stay in the game, but their inside men were at war much of the half. The combination of forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons contributed 14 points for Florida in the first half.

"He looked good to me," said Horn. "Twenty-four points, four rebounds - a couple of them big rebounds in traffic - and four steals. Was he as explosive as he could be, I don't' know. I don't think he didn't show up. You'd probably have to saw a limb off for him not to play."

With a respondent inside game, Carolina was able to close the gap to as small as two points in the early going of the second half. Finally, Downey was able to put the Gamecocks back ahead at 51-50 with just under 9 minutes left in the game.

After the Gators evened the score, the Gamecocks were able to deal the knockout blow in the form of a 10-3 run, to take a 61-54 lead with 4 minutes to go in the game.

Another reason the Gamecocks were able to get back into the game after the break was forcing Florida into a season high 20 turnovers. Coach Horn said that his team's energy, especially on defense, helped them push through and find a way to win.

"I don't' think we were tremendous (defensively)," asserted Horn. "I'm sure they think they could take care of it better but at times we were active and did positive things as well. It's a little bit of both."

Florida was able to make some baskets down the stretch, but started fouling the Gamecocks on each possession under two minutes. Free throw shooting was a big advantage for the Gamecocks, who shot 79% on the night compared to just 44% for Florida. Downey led USC in this category as well, making 11-12 shots from the charity stripe.

"In a lot of ways the game was left out on the free throw line for our team," said Donovan. "I thought there was a huge disparity in the game. We did a pretty good job of not fouling. Their total number of free throws exceeded ours by one because we were fouling so late in the game."

After a hard fought game, the Gamecocks finally emerged victorious by a score of 77-71. It was another strong second half effort for a team that will have to pull together and play well consistently in the second half of their SEC schedule.

Florida guard Erving Walker led the team on the offensive end with 20 points, while fellow guard Kenny Boynton added 13. The Gators inside game was led by Tyus and Chandler, who contributed 11 and 13 points respectively. The pair also added a combined 26 rebounds on the night.

The Gamecocks moved to 14-9 on the season, 5-4 in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators fell to 17-7, 6-4 in conference. USC will be on the road for their next two games, traveling first to Athens on Saturday to face the Georgia Bulldogs.

After another road game against Arkansas on February 17th, USC will return home to face Tennessee.

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