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Florida vs. South Carolina, Game Thread: Gators, Gamecocks in rock fight redux

The two defensive-minded foes meet again in Gainesville.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

One would hope that after scoring just 57 points in 67 possessions against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, the Florida Gators might get a bit of a breather to work their offense back into shape.

One’s hopes would be as wrong as can be: The South Carolina Gamecocks and their own withering defense will be Florida’s challenge on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN) in the penultimate men’s basketball game in the O’Connell Center of the 2016-17 season.

Florida’s 57-52 loss to the Gamecocks in Columbia was well-lamented at the time: The Gators’ 0-for-17 performance from beyond the arc snapped a nearly 25-year streak of games with a made three, and nearly every Gator had his worst night of the season, with Kasey Hill — of all people — and Kevarrius Hayes being the only Gators to make more than half of their shots.

But virtually everything had to go wrong for Florida to lose that game, even in the fashion that the Gators did.

In addition to getting zero points on threes — when just six would have swung the outcome — the Gators sank just 15 of 28 free throws, and got a combined one point from KeVaughn Allen, Justin Leon, and Keith Stone, who had combined for 28 points (17 of them from Stone) in the game prior, and would score 35 points (29 from Allen) one game later. South Carolina shot a miserable 28.9 percent on twos, just over 30 percent on threes, and under 70 percent from the line.

It’s not that the Gamecocks dominated Florida on that night — it’s that they made a couple more plays than the Gators did over the course of that game, which was played in front of a raucous home crowd.

Now Florida will get such a crowd to cheer it on.

If the Gators are going to reverse their fortunes from that roadie, though, they might begin by limiting leading SEC Player of the Year candidate Sindarius Thornwell, as do-everything as do-everything players get. Thornwell has scored in double figures in every game he’s played this year, and is on a truly terrifying tear of late, scoring 30 points per game over his last four. That average is inflated by a 44-point performance in a quadruple-overtime win over Alabama two Tuesdays ago, sure, but Thornwell’s also scored 21 or more points in his three outings since then.

That hasn’t translated to success for his Gamecocks, though: South Carolina is 1-3 in those games, with the losses coming to NIT hopefuls Alabama, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt, and the lone win being an even closer call against Mississippi State in Starkville than the one Florida had on Saturday. No other South Carolina player has scored 20 since P.J. Dozier put up 21 in that 60-minute Alabama game, and the Gamecocks’ last three games constitute the first three-game streak of allowing more than a point per possession for Frank Martin’s defense, which is still third in adjusted defensive efficiency nationally, but has slipped behind Florida’s own stingy defense in SEC play.

And while Florida is third in adjusted offensive efficiency in SEC play, despite performances like that loss at South Carolina and the struggle in Starkville last Saturday, South Carolina is just 10th, and is last in two-point field goal percentage.

While the Gators’ meeting with the Gamecocks in Columbia produced the sort of dire result that left a dim view of both teams, it’s not completely unreasonable to expect the Gators to rebound for a convincing win at home — KenPom, in fact, forecasts an 82-71 Florida victory.