Five takeaways from Florida’s missed chance at beating South Carolina

It’s a familiar story that Florida sometimes can overcome.

And then there are days like Saturday.

The Gators lost to South Carolina, 82-76, to fall to 20-9 and 10-6 in the SEC.

It’s a loss that could affect Florida’s seeding for the SEC Tournament and the Big Dance.

But if they can’t solve this problem, it’s not going to matter.

For the fourth time this season, Florida gave up at least 50 points in the second half of an SEC game.

“We played really well in the first half,” said Florida coach Todd Golden. “But it was a different story in the second half. The free throw game hurt us.”

And, again, the zone defense was an issue, the turnovers reappeared, and the breaks never came.

And Florida lost another double-digit lead in the second half thanks, in part, to Meechie Johnson’s 25 points.

My five takeaways have seen this before.

It looked like a very important win

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Florida survived a slow start, turned off the snooze button and really looked like a dangerous team for a good portion of the game, leading 56-46 with 12:29 to play.

But that’s when Johnson started firing, hitting a three and scoring 15 points in the final 12 minutes.

These two teams looked like mirror images, multiple bigs with different ways to beat you.

Florida had four players in double figures led by Walter Clayton Jr. with 20 and Zyon Pullin with 19.

But there were plenty of issues.

“We’re not giving ourselves a chance when they shoot 21 free throws in the second half and we shoot 10,” Golden said.

How do we look at another one?

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

For Florida to go into Columbia, South Carolina, and look like the better team for three-quarters of the game tells you something about this team.

And let us remember this — the SEC and NCAA Tournaments are not held at sites of true road games. Florida has led so many quality opponents in the second half only to kick too many away.

Ooooo, that zone. Can’t you smell that zone?

“It has been a bit of an Achilles heel for us,” Golden said. “We were tentative at the top of the zone again. We better get this figure out in the next couple of games.”

The first half was what you expected

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two top 25 teams playing on ESPN with seeding and bye weeks on the line? You knew both teams would come out hungry. The Gators started a little tentatively and South Carolina, playing at home, was the aggressor. But a 17-1 run by the Gators gave them a 23-15 lead.

Clayton Jr. made a pair of late threes to give Florida a 37-31 lead at the half despite getting four shots blocked and fouling too many shooters (USC went 7 of 9 at the free throw line).

It continued in the second half

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The free throws, that is. The Gamecocks kept attacking the basket, especially after Florida went up 10, and lived at the free-throw line. South Carolina ended up shooting 31 free throws compared to Florida’s 15.

The Gamecocks’ rally in the second half was fueled by free throws as they scored eight straight points without making a basket. On top of the over-officious referees who missed an obvious foul on Clayton Jr.’s last shot, Florida committed eight turnovers in the second half.

“We can’t turn it over like that,” Golden said.

Move over, and let Meechie take over

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Meechie Johnson had four points in the first half on 1 of 5 shooting. He scored 21 points in the second half on 9 of 10 shooting. Johnson is streaky and Florida allowed him to get on a hot one.

So, basically, you had a final 10 minutes where Florida turned the ball over against THE ZONE DEFENSE.

And the defense went south suddenly. And you got no calls, which is hardly unusual on the road.

Next up

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators return home for a rematch against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday, March 5, inside the O’Connell Center. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Read more

Gators stand pat in CBS Sports bracketology ahead of Gamecocks game


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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire