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Florida 81, South Carolina 66: Gators roast Gamecocks in second half

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Barbecue chicken.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Florida Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight game, the Florida Gators men’s basketball team let a significant first-half lead evaporate — this time, doing so in the first half.

And for the second straight game, the Gators made up for it, this time with their most convincing half of play since losing John Egbunu to injury.

At the end of the second half, and the game, Florida had an 81-66 win over South Carolina, one of the best defensive teams in the country — and a clear path to a showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats that should determine the SEC’s champion.

KeVaughn Allen scored 26 points on just seven shots, draining 13 of his 14 free throws and three of his five threes to lead all scorers. Florida also got double-digit totals from Devin Robinson (14 points), Chris Chiozza (12 off the bench), and Kasey Hill (10) that helped compensate for a scoreless night by leading scorer Canyon Barry, whose nine minutes off the bench showed a player visibly hampered by an ankle injury sustained at Mississippi State.

The Gators outscored the Gamecocks 46-34 in the second half, building steadily toward their final margin with jabbing runs and stifling defense. South Carolina trailed by a 49-46 count with just over 13 minutes to play, but would never get closer than six points again after one of Allen’s threes reopened a two-possession edge for Florida at the 12:33 mark.

That was welcome resilience from Florida, which saw a 12-point lead vanish in the first half thanks to a 17-2 burst from the Gamecocks, who got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Sindarius Thornwell on the evening.

Of course, the Gators did respond to that run, and the three-point lead the ‘Cocks took from it, with a 5-0 salvo punctuated by Allen dunking on a fast break generated by his own steal.

Because of that, Florida led at halftime. After intermission, Florida never trailed.

The win moves Florida to 13-2 in SEC play, and to first place in the league — until the completion of Kentucky’s Tuesday night game with the Missouri Tigers, anyway.

But whether or not the Wildcats emerge from the Show-Me State with a win, Florida’s trip to Lexington and vaunted Rupp Arena on Saturday will probably swing the conference title to either the Gators or Big Blue.