South Carolina led for just 20 seconds of Florida's 74-66 win over the Gamecocks at the O'Dome on Thursday night, got outrebounded 39-28, and allowed Kenny Boynton to score 24 points. So why did it feel like the Gators were always on the verge of collapse and the Gamecocks on the brink of a huge comeback?
I think it's because Florida fans were familiar with the script.
Florida fans remember games in which Erving Walker and Boynton have had to bomb away to keep Florida in games, and Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh before that, and Teddy Dupay and Brett Nelson before that. It's in the program's DNA under Billy Donovan: There are always shot-happy guards on the roster (I defy you to find a year in which this was not true, and before you ask, the '04s having Lee Humphrey means they don't count) and there's always the temptation to settle for a decent three-pointer instead of getting the best shot possible.
This Florida team does that, too, even though it's got the tools to do a much better job of the latter. Patric Young is a space-eater underneath, and, when properly engaged and fed, is much too much for virtually any post player in the SEC; Boynton and Beal can be superb when taking the ball to the hoop, both for lay-ups/dunks and for dribble-kick opportunities.
But these Gators are undersized, Walker and Boynton especially so, and so they don't have the best luck against rangy shot-blockers like South Carolina's Damontre Harris. Young didn't, either, on Thursday night, having his first shot of the night erased in the first half by Harris, whose second block helped forestall UF's red-hot run to a 27-10 lead (Florida had 12 rebounds before South Carolina got its second) and whose third and fourth helped dissuade Florida from doing anything inside consistently, both on offense and defense, for the rest of the night. They played passively, settled for 28 threes, and left the door wide open for a South Carolina team that never quite got to the threshold.
Florida got one great possession in the second half, with passes criss-crossing the court and the ball eventually finding Will Yeguete (four points, eight rebounds) for an easy dunk. Though Beal's (17 points, 11 rebounds, five of them offensive) thunderclap of a dunk over Harris convinced me that there would be no full-fledged collapse, and elicited an involuntary "OH MY GOD!" from me in my seat, it didn't let me relax.
That's because this script isn't a great one when the shots fall; if the Gators play like this in February of any year in a setting that isn't "home game against 9-11 South Carolina team," they're asking for a loss. And the scary thing is that Florida has almost but games like that from here on in, playing Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Auburn, and Kentucky at home and five road games to finish its SEC schedule. Given the Gators' year so far, would you call any of those games except the home game against Auburn a gimme?
I wouldn't. And so I think these Gators have to learn how to take things.
P.S.: The headline is deliberate and I will not elaborate beyond that.