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South Carolina 73, Florida 69: Gators can't get over the line late

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The Gators failed to keep their foot on the pedal. And so they fell.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Florida did everything in its power to come back for what would've been a big road win at South Carolina on Saturday. It rallied from a 30-13 hole to lead 33-30 at halftime, and 35-30 in the second half. It pushed that lead to six points in the second half, and met every South Carolina surge with counterpunches, doing what was necessary to get to overtime.

But the Gators didn't have enough to hold the lead for long at any point, nor enough to hold a lead or take it back in overtime. And so they lost, 73-69, and remain dangerously close to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Dorian Finney-Smith (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Devin Robinson (17 points, eight rebounds) cued the Gators on this day, combining for more than half of Florida's points and six of the Gators' nine threes.

But everyone else contributed little on the offensive end. Chris Chiozza had 11 points on 11 shots and four turnovers, and too many of those shots were of the fadeaway three variety. KeVaughn Allen had nine points, but no threes, and vanished for long stretches of play, before showing up in the final seconds to step out of bounds on a potential game-winning possession. Kasey Hill dished seven assists but didn't score. John Egbunu had just five points and five rebounds after foul trouble kept him sidelined for much of the game.

And even Finney-Smith, who sparked Florida's run in the first half and kept the Gators close late with big threes, isn't faultless: He missed one of two free throws with under a minute to play, leaving Florida tied instead of leading.

Florida played fine defense, generally, but it let Mindaugas Kacinas (14 points, seven boards) and Laimonas Chatkevicius (13 points, five rebounds) maraud early and allowed Michael Carrera (a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds) and Sindarius Thornwell (17 points) pop in threes late. And with the Gators making just nine of their 30 triples and committing 15 turnovers, even those small lapses erased Florida's margin of error and chance of victory.

The Gators still have a margin of error when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament; this loss shouldn't push them even into the double-digits in most projected seedings. But it is now crucial for Florida to finish strong, and that will begin on Tuesday with a home game against dangerous Vanderbilt.