Despite it all — despite the refs and the cold shooting and the utter lack of anything resembling rhythm — the Florida Gators had a 14-point lead over South Carolina on Saturday night, and a 10-point lead midway through the second half, and a nine-point lead with under eight minutes to play.
They still managed to lose all of those leads, and the game, in dispiriting, excruciating fashion, giving up a game-winning dunk to Chris Silva on a full-court pass with just seconds to play to take a 71-69 loss that may be an anchor for them for months.
Oh my goodness South Carolina’s stretch pass just worked pic.twitter.com/wulyyvzJh7— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) January 6, 2019
That Silva clearly pushed off to create space to catch the pass leading to that dunk, which finished his 18-point second half? No matter, just as the majority of the foul-worthy contact in the final four minutes was bizarrely deemed not worthy of a whistle by refs who called 48 personal fouls — and spotted two lane violations — on the night, but just four in the final 5:35 of play.
This is Florida’s loss to own because of its inability to succeed despite that adversity.
The Gators started hot, taking back the lead earned by a South Carolina free throw with a 9-0 run, and held that lead for most of the night. But they would go cold, ultimately shooting 38 percent from the field and 27 percent from three, as the Gamecocks tightened up their defense and referees steadfastly refused to allow either team to find rhythm.
Noah Locke led the Gators with 15 points, but started 5-for-10 from the three-point line and finished 5-for-15. Andrew Nembhard had 10 points, but needed 10 shots to get them; KeVaughn Allen scored 10 points on just six shots, and the final one of those six attempts came just eight seconds into the second half and was swatted by Silva.
And with Kevarrius Hayes sidelined nearly the entire night with foul trouble, Silva was allowed room to operate in the second half, providing the second scorer to compliment Hassani Gravett (22 points to lead all scorers) that the Gamecocks needed. (Hayes did make a game-tying free throw with 3.5 seconds remaining, but it was his back that Silva pushed off of on the game’s final scoring play.)
For Florida, which harbors NCAA Tournament dreams, losing to a team with no business hoping that hard at the moment is a painful blow, especially given how it failed to dig deep and pull out the win.
And with a rugged stretch of SEC play coming up in the next few weeks, the Gators may find themselves in a hole too deep to dig from before February arrives.