COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—The way Florida coach Billy Donovan sees it, his Gators lost more than a chance at an undefeated season and to be ranked No. 1 by losing their last two games. He said they lost everything they had built this season.
Tarence Kinsey had 19 points and South Carolina beat the fifth-ranked Gators 68-62 on Wednesday night, handing them their second straight defeat after opening the season with 17 wins.
While Donovan thought the Gators (17-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) fought hard in their 80-76 loss at Tennessee last weekend, he did not see the same intensity, passion and fire from his team against the Gamecocks (11-8, 2-4) that he had come to expect since the year began.
“We’re right back to where we were before the season started,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to be able to prove ourselves. I think it’s very, very evident, we’re not a Top 5, Top Ten, Top 15 team.”
At first, the Gators looked eager to take their first loss out on the Gamecocks as Joakim Noah had three quick inside baskets to put Florida ahead 15-6. But South Carolina followed with a 20-6 run to take control.
Kinsey and Renaldo Balkman were two big reasons why.
Kinsey, a senior, had 11 points in the second half and steadied his younger teammates as Florida made a late run.
Balkman, a 6-foot-8 reserve, cut off the middle for Florida’s big men and created an inside presence for the Gamecocks. He finished with 14 points.
“Some might say there was a team in the country that needed a win like this more than we did,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “I would argue that.”
Taurean Green led the Gators with 17 points, while Noah had 12, only four in the second half.
What these two defeats exposed, according to Donovan, was that Florida is a young team—four of its starters are sophomores—one susceptible to mistakes at critical times.
The Gators were down by as many as 13 points in the second half.
In almost every area, Florida came up wanting against South Carolina. The Gamecocks had more rebounds (32-31), fewer turnovers (8-17) and doubled the Gators’ five steals.
“What this goes to show you is that in our league, coming in with a team that was 1-4 against a team that was perceived as being a top team, we were basically manhandled today,” Donovan said.
Balkman had three baskets during South Carolina’s decisive first-half run, then had a basket and a free throw to help the team start the second half with a 9-2 run that gave the Gamecocks a 38-25 lead.
South Carolina point guard Tre Kelley said the key was staying patient and in control when Florida moved in front.
“That’s what we did, we stayed calm,” he said. “We knew we had to create intensity if we wanted to turn this around.”
For South Carolina, that came on the defensive end. The Gamecocks held Florida without a basket for nearly 10 minutes in the first half. When the Gators cut things to 48-41 midway through the second half, Dwayne Day hit a 3-pointer and Balkman had a powerful jam on South Carolina’s fourth offensive rebound of the sequence.
Green had two 3-pointers, Walter Hodge added one and Al Horford scored inside bucket as Florida cut a 15-point lead to 67-62 with 38 seconds to go.
South Carolina held on despite going 4-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch.
“This is the SEC,” Noah said. “We’ve got to be ready at all times. We’ve got to be on edge. It’s unacceptable.”
South Carolina had squandered leads of 15 points in a loss to Tennessee three weeks ago, and 12 points to Kentucky last Saturday.
“It’s one of those deals, you feel like you’re capable of doing something special, but you haven’t done it yet,” Odom said.
The Gamecocks last beat the Gators on Travis Kraft’s desperation 3-pointer at the old Carolina Coliseum in 2001.