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South Carolina 77, Florida 72: Gators blow leads as Gamecocks rain threes

Having a number next to its name is something Florida doesn’t like, apparently.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a win over the Kentucky Wildcats, once more atop the SEC standings, the Florida Gators had a chance to enter February as no worse than their league’s top team by knocking off the South Carolina Gamecocks on Wednesday.

That, uh, didn’t happen.

South Carolina made 11 of 21 threes, with Maine transfer Wesley Myers draining five of seven en route to a game-high 22 points, and erased a nine-point second half lead to defeat the Gators, 77-72, scoring a fourth win over Florida in the teams’ last five meetings.

And this game really did boil down to shooting: While Florida made just six of 23 triples, the Gamecocks capitalized on open looks all night, compensating for an underwhelming night inside the arc by getting triples and free throws (18 makes on 22 tries) in a game that never really felt like it was in the Gators’ grasp.

That feeling was true despite two scintillating stretches, a 19-4 run in the first half to open up an 11-point lead and an 11-0 burst out of halftime to run out to a nine-point edge. In response to those spurts, South Carolina simply bore down and got more threes — Myers, Felipe Haase, Evan Hinson, and Justin Minaya all made multiple treys, and at least half of their threes — and more points from Chris Silva (18 points, 12 rebounds) when it could.

And Florida, despite getting double-figure scoring from KeVaughn Allen (15 points), Chris Chiozza (10 points, eight assists), Jalen Hudson (16 points off the bench), and Egor Koulechov (16 points), couldn’t keep up with one of the SEC’s more inept offensive outfits. The rest of the Gators combining for just 15 points — and nine of those coming from little-used reserve Dontay Bassett — had a lot to do with that, but it also seems clear that the Gamecocks’ brand of physical, extended man defense works well against Florida’s personnel and Mike White’s system when the Gators can’t hit their threes.

And on this night, they didn’t — and so, thanks to a very ordinary effort on a night Florida’s promotions department branded Superhero Night, much of the good feeling and SEC and NCAA Tournament standing earned by walking into Rupp Arena last Saturday and walking out winners has vanished.