Florida vs. South Carolina score, takeaways: Gators blow another late lead in ranked road defeat

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 2, 2024
Florida vs. South Carolina score, takeaways: Gators blow another late lead in ranked road defeat

Image Credit: UAA

It was hardly a surprise when the No. 24 Florida Gators saw their 10-point lead evaporate in the second half Saturday afternoon — that’s happened consistently all season. Nor was it surprising that the Gators struggled to score against the zone during a key juncture in the game. Ultimately, Florida’s team weaknesses were on full display in a 82-76 loss to the No. 18 South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong for UF, which fell to 20-9 (10-6 SEC) with two regular season games remaining after winning nine of their prior 11 contests.

It was over when … junior guard Will Richard grabbed the Gators’ lone offensive rebound of the second half only to immediately commit the team’s eighth turnover of the period with 21 seconds left and the Gamecocks leading by five points.

Freshman center Alex Condon punctuated a 7-0 run with a thunderous dunk as Florida took a 10-point lead with 13 minutes to play. However, the Gators committed one turnover after another while going ice cold offensively against South Carolina’s 1-3-1 zone, allowing the Gamecocks to power all the way back with a 16-5 run to retake the lead with 5 minutes remaining. It was yet another blown double-digit lead in the second half a game, which has become all too familiar an occurrence for Florida. Consecutive 3-pointers by sophomore G Riley Kugel and junior G Walter Clayton Jr. knotted the game at 74, but South Carolina immediately answered with a triple of its own to retake the lead once more with 43 seconds left.

First half focus: Florida committed four turnovers in the first 4:40 but eventually rallied with a thunderous 17-1 run, turning an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Though the Gamecocks battled back to retake the lead with 3:25 until the break, the Gators ended the half on a 10-3 run to hold a six-point advantage at halftime. Freshman forward Thomas Haugh was the star of the first half, hitting all four of his shots for nine points with four rebounds and two assists.

Exceptional efforts: It was an incomplete effort for Clayton, Florida’s leading scorer this season, who had a team-high 20 points on Saturday. Though he hit 6 of 11 attempts from beyond the arc after recovering from a slow start, his six turnovers — four of which came in the second half — played a significant role in the Gators’ defeat. redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin was again tremendous with 18 points on an efficient shooting afternoon alongside seven assists and four rebounds.

Curious decisions: Haugh, who got whatever he wanted in the first half, only played 3 minutes after the break. Instead, Kugel saw significant run in the latter period, finishing with 10 points in 29 minutes (his most since Feb. 10), but he committed two turnovers during that awful aforementioned stretch. Meanwhile, Richard played 26 minutes and is now 1 of 13 from the field with four points overthe last two games.

Odds & ends: Florida fell to 48-29 all-time against South Carolina with a 24-16 mark on the road … the Gators, which used to dominate when leading at halftime and late in games, are now 17-5 in the former and 18-4 in the latter … Florida lost for the first time this season when shooting 45% or better from the field (12-1), the second time when outshooting an opponent (16-2) and the first time when shooting 40% or better from long range (3-1) … the Gators outrebounded the Gamecocks 34-29, outscored them 30-24 in the paint, and both got more scoring from their bench (25-21) and on second chances (6-5) … the difference was Florida’s 12 turnovers and South Carolina taking more than twice as many free throw attempts with a 31-15 edge in the game

What it means: The loss is not devastating to the NCAA Tournament resume as South Carolina was a ranked team playing at home, but when reviewing the statistics listed above, Saturday was a game Florida absolutely should have won. The Gators fell further below .500 against Quadrant 1 teams (3-8) with the defeat but remain 17-1 otherwise. Golden continues to struggle coaching offensively against the zone, and there’s no question that South Carolina’s Lamont Paris — the likely 2024 SEC Coach of the Year — got the better of him over the game’s final 10 minutes. UF’s propensity for blowing double-digit leads in the second half is precisely why this team’s ceiling is no deeper than the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. While Florida has thrived in overtime and seen its share of tough victories late in games, nearly every situation has come with it first blowing a lead rather than fighting back from a deficit.

What’s next? The Gators will next play their third ranked opponent in a five-game span. Florida hosts No. 14 Alabama this Tuesday on Senior Night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for its penultiamte game of the regular season. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. ET with the game airing live nationally on ESPN.

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