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Defense fuels Florida laugher over South Carolina

The SportsXchange

GAINESVILLE -- Florida is learning how to challenge itself, even as the scores become more and more lopsided.

Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each scored 15 points, lifting the No. 4 Gators to a 75-36 win over South Carolina at the O'Connell Center. The 39-point victory was the largest margin of victory for Florida against the Gamecocks in a 62-game series that dates back to 1926.

Florida led by as many as 46 points in the second half before bringing its freshmen and reserves in. Florida could have won by more than 40 points if not for nine missed free throws (7 of 16).

"What I've tried to get across to these guys is when you are up by a large margin, that does not give you the right not to do your job," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The scoreboard has nothing to do with your responsibility on the court, and they've done a pretty good job playing every possession."

It was another smothering defensive effort for the Gators. Florida, which came into the game third in the nation in scoring defense at 51.2 points per game, held an opponent under 40 points for the second time this season and under 50 points for the 11th time.

Freshman Michael Frazier added 12 points off the bench for Florida (17-2, 7-0 SEC), which won its ninth straight. It's UF's longest winning streak since winning 10 in a row to close its 2006-07 national title season.

Florida won its third SEC game by more than 30 points and has won six SEC games by 20 points or more.

"We'll get challenged when a team challenges us," Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "That's not something we worry about. We're just going to keep playing hard on offense and defense regardless."

Freshman forward Michael Carrera led South Carolina (12-8, 2-5 SEC) with 13 points. The Gamecocks were held to their lowest scoring output in a conference game in 21 years in the SEC.

"The more I studied them on tape, the more I realized there's a reason they've played as well as they've played this year," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "When they play here in this building, they take it to even another level."

The Gators led 33-10 at halftime. Florida's modern record for fewest points allowed in a half was nine in the season opener Nov. 11 against Alabama State.

Florida held South Carolina to just three first-half field goals and 14.6 percent shooting in the first half (3-for-21). If not for a technical foul on Rosario for hanging on the rim after a dunk, Florida could have set a record for fewest points allowed in a half in the shot-clock era.

Fueled by their defense, the Gators got off to another quick start. Florida forced nine South Carolina turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game, jumping to an early 17-4 lead.

"We want to make teams feel uncomfortable," Rosario said. "That's our style of play."

Rosario sparked the Florida offense, scoring all the points during a 10-0 run. The stretch included a four-point play in which Rosario made a 3-pointer from the left wing as he was fouled by South Carolina guard Brian Richardson.

An Erik Murphy 3-pointer extended Florida's lead to 24-6 with 7:44 left. From there, Florida continued to smother South Carolina defensively throughout the half.

"It starts with defense," Boynton said. "We just never want to let up defensively. We take that as a challenge."

NOTES: Florida junior forward Casey Prather (high ankle sprain) saw his first game action since Jan. 12 vs. LSU. Prather finished with two points, two rebounds and one assist in three minutes off the bench. ... Florida shot 12 of 21 from 3-point range in the South Carolina win and is shooting 50 percent (26-for-52) in their last two games. ... Florida's 17-2 start is its fourth-best two-loss start in school history, behind the 2003-04 (18-2), 2005-06 (20-2) and 2006-07 (24-2) seasons.
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