In front of a crowd of over 12,000 including a record 4,182 students, the Florida Gator men's basketball team improved to 12-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference play with a 74-58 win over South Carolina.
Just one year ago, the Gators hosted the Gamecocks (7-7, 0-1) and handed them one of the program's most lopsided losses ever. Fast forward one year and it seemed as though the result would be about the same. The Gators began the game on fire and found themselves leading 14-1 just six minutes in.
Florida would never relinquish the lead they garnished, but head coach Billy Donovan said his team could have played a whole lot better.
“We have these moments where we sub and there’s not that edge or intensity that I would like,” he said.
At the point of their 13 point lead, the Gators struggled to extend that lead and the Gamecocks were able to match their points scored for the remainder of the first half. Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin took his team into the locker room down 13.
The Gamecocks were able to gain a little momentum as just seven minutes into the second half they found themselves only down by eight points. However, that was as close as they would get as the Gators would open the game up and extend their lead to as much as 23 points.
Overall the Gators were led in this game by three of the seniors they have relied on most. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin led all scorers with 17 and the Gators also received double digit efforts from Patric Young and Casey Prather who both finished with 13.
After shooting a low 40 percent versus Richmond in their last contest, the Gators were looking to find their rhythm, but despite a fast start, Florida shot 48 percent from the field and an abysmal 10 percent from three in the first half.
However, the Gators were able to find their stroke as they came out of the locker room and shot 70% from the field. Shooting just 26% from three on the game, they had to find other means to produce points. The biggest stat of the game came with the Gator dominance inside as they scored 40 points in the paint compared to 16 for Carolina. Florida also outscored the Gamecocks in fast break points 20 to 5.
It’s no secret the Gators are a very dangerous team when they get out in transition and Donovan knows that success starts with his team’s defense.
“We’re better when we can flow, pass, and cut,” Donovan said. “And a lot is predicated on how we guard.”
The Gators also finished Thursday night with 16 assists compared to their 15 turnovers. For a Gator squad ranked 11th in the SEC in assists any improvement is a success. And once again the Gators stuck to their roots giving up just 58 points, which coincidentally is what they average as a scoring defense this season.
However, Wednesday’s game wasn’t met with all positives. With just a couple minutes left in the game, Wilbekin drove the lane and came down very awkwardly on his right ankle. It’s unclear what his status will be, but he is a guy the Gators can’t afford to lose.
The Gators have now won 24 straight home games, which places them in the top five in active home win streaks while also tying the school record for most consecutive home wins. With the Gators having such success in the O’Connell Center, center Patric Young says the team wants every home game to be almost a guaranteed win.
“We would love to finish out the season undefeated and say that we reached our potential,” he said.
Up next for the Gators will be a trip to Fayetteville to face the Arkansas Razorbacks. Last year, the Razorbacks upset the Gators 80-69 in Fayetteville and the Gators will certainly be looking for revenge. Arkansas opened SEC play with a loss at Texas A&M.
For postgame audio about the game, click the links below.