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In the rubber match of a series that saw the Gators and Gamecocks each win a game at home during the regular season, No. 4 seed Florida couldn’t hit enough shots in the second half against No. 7 seed South Carolina’s tenacious, physical defense. That resulted in the Gamecocks (26-10, 12-6 SEC) handing the Gators (27-9, 14-4 SEC) a 77-70 loss on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Florida failed to reach its sixth Final Four in school history and fourth since 2006, but Mike White’s group still ended the year on a strong run in what was a successful second season at the helm for the 40-year-old coach. Meanwhile, South Carolina advances to its first Final Four in school history and will play No. 1 seed Gonzaga next Saturday.
Instant Analysis now takes a closer look at Florida’s season-ending loss.
IT WAS OVER WHEN: After entering halftime with a 40-33 lead, Florida saw South Carolina eventually even up the score at 63-63 with three minutes to go in a game that saw 10 ties and 14 lead changes.
Sindarius Thornwell gave the Gamecocks a two-point lead after hitting two free throws, and following a Kasey Hill turnover Maik Kotsar knocked down a jumper after catching a dish-out from Thornwell. Kevarrius Hayes responded quickly with a bucket, but Chris Chiozza then fouled PJ Dozier and the South Carolina guard made both free throw attempts.
With Florida trailing 69-65 with 1:15 to go, Chiozza’s floater on the next play was no good. Then, South Carolina held on at the free throw line. Chris Silva made 1-of-2, but KeVaughn Allen notched an and-one to cut the Gators’ deficit to 70-68. Then, the Gamecocks would send a fullcourt heave to Duane Notice, who was then fouled. Florida fans were upset, as it appeared Notice had taken extra steps but the refs made no call.
Notice made both, and South Carolina had the 72-68 advantage. Devin Robinson then lost his handle, as Silva earned the steal, was fouled and went 1-of-2 again. Allen came up empty on the ensuing play, and Silva went 1-of-2 on free throws once again. Both teams would then exchange a Chiozza bucket for two Thornwell free throws. After Chiozza lost possession of the basketball on the following play, the Gamecocks put an exclamation point on the win with a transition dunk by Notice.
THEY STOLE THE SHOW: Justin Leon led the way with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-8 from three) to go along with six rebounds on Sunday, including 13 first-half points. Meanwhile, Thornwell finished with a game-high 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting (9-of-10 free throw shooting) to go along with seven rebounds for the Gamecocks.
THESE STATS DON'T LIE: Florida shot 7-of-12 from three in the first half but 0-of-14 from downtown in the second half. The Gamecocks outscored the Gators in the paint 42-28 and on turnovers 20-9 as Florida committed 16 turnovers to South Carolina’s 11. South Carolina went 23-of-31 on free throws (74.2%), while Florida went 13-of-14 (92.9%).
WHAT A PLAY: With both teams standing tied at 53-53, Allen made a difficult shot at a much-needed time for the Gators. Against South Carolina’s swarming, suffocating defense in the halfcourt, Allen studying his options at the perimeter and then drove to the basket. He left off a contested shot in the paint that banked in, giving Florida a 55-53 lead with 7:14 left.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This loss was a tough one for the Gators to swallow, but they shouldn’t hang their heads. Sure, they missed a number of important threes in the second half and fell out of rhythm offensively, but they hung until the very end against an aggressive South Carolina squad that’s hot right now. Fans have a case to be miffed about calls not going in the Gators’ favor down the stretch and the free-throw discrepancy, but at the same time Florida didn’t do itself any favors with its offensive execution in the later moments.
Still, Year 2 of the White era was a pleasant surprise for the Florida fan base. The Gators finished 27-9, 14-4 in conference play and with a run in the Elite Eight that included Chiozza’s buzzer-beating three – one of the greatest moments in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. It was a successful season – and there’s plenty about this team for Florida fans to be excited about moving forward.
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