GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—The Florida Gators are getting pretty good at these net-cutting ceremonies.
Al Horford scored 20 points, Chris Richard added a season-high 14 and third-ranked Florida rebounded from its first loss in more than two months with a 63-49 victory against South Carolina on Wednesday night.
The Gators, whose 17-game winning streak was snapped Saturday at Vanderbilt, clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship—their second outright league title and first since 1989.
And the defending national champions cut down nets for the fourth time in the last year.
“It’s great, but we’re greedy,” forward Joakim Noah said. “We want more. That’s a great feeling and it’s something we can’t take lightly. It’s about like we’re supposed to do that. But we can’t forget that it’s special. We’ve won everything we can right now, but we want more.”
Florida also cut down nets after winning the SEC tournament last March, after winning the Minneapolis Regional two weeks later to earn a trip to the Final Four, and after beating UCLA 73-59 in the title game April 3.
With all that practice, the Gators should be pretty good at it. But guard Lee Humphrey cut the wrong strand and ended up with a bigger chunk than anybody else.
“There’s still plenty to go around,” he said.
Florida, which is a near shoo-in as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next month, hopes to cut down a few more nets this season.
“We’re not done and we’re not satisfied,” Noah said.
It was Florida’s fourth conference championship—the Gators also won in 1989, 2000 and 2001—but the last two were shared with Kentucky.
“You want to get to the point where you win championships,” coach Billy Donovan said. “But don’t take it for granted. What happened tonight was beyond significant in my opinion. When you have the level of expectation on our team, they’ve got to handle it. They get everybody’s best shot. Just go down the conference and look at everybody else’s record. These kids are the one group of any team that really separate themselves.”
The Gators (25-3, 12-1) endured another slow start, a problem that has plagued the defending national champions this season and contributed to the loss against the Commodores. But Florida got going midway through the first half and dominated the Gamecocks (13-13, 3-10) most of the night.
Horford presented the most problems for South Carolina.
The 6-foot-10 center scored on putbacks, left-handed layups, spinning drives in the lane and even hit a few jumpers. He finished 10-of-19 from the floor and had five blocks—helping the Gators put together one of their best defensive efforts.
Noah was 2-of-10 in an off shooting night, but added 13 rebounds and four blocks. Corey Brewer had six points and a career-high 12 rebounds, and Richard was 6-of-7 from the field.
“Horford and Richard killed us,” South Carolina guard Bryce Sheldon said.
Added teammate Dominique Archie: “They were stronger than us inside.”
Tre Kelley led the Gamecocks with 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting.
The Gators led by 19 early in the second half, but South Carolina shot considerably better after halftime and trimmed the lead to 50-41 with about 5 minutes to play.
Florida went inside from there, getting baskets from Noah, Horford and Richard to make it 56-42 with 2 minutes remaining.
Humphrey put the exclamation point on the big victory with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 46.9 seconds left, helping the Gators improve to 17-0 at home.
“We said we wanted to set records and we wanted to be the best,” Brewer said. “It’s another page in the book. … It never gets old. We love cutting the nets down. This is one of our goals. We did everything you can do in college basketball but this and now we did it. It’s just another goal. We’re trying to set records—another page in our book.”
The Gators missed their first six shots of the game but the Gamecocks weren’t much better from the field, making three of their first 20 shots.
Florida eventually got things going and put together a 20-0 run that made it 26-8 late in the first half. The Gators took advantage of South Carolina’s shooting problems—the Gamecocks were 5-of-26 in the first half and 0-for-5 from 3-point range—to build a big lead, up 30-13 at the break.
That helped lead to another net-cutting ceremony.
“We’re all about setting records and this was one of our goals in the preseason—to win the SEC regular-season title,” Horford said. “That’s a great accomplishment.”