For much of the first half of their 81-60 win over South Carolina on Wednesday, the Florida Gators men’s basketball team was flirting with a blowout.
In the second, the Gators went steady.
Florida forced 15 turnovers while committing only six, had six players score nine or more points, and led by as many as 28 points in its rout of the Gamecocks, who fell to 1-6 in SEC play. The Gators made their way to 5-3 in conference action, earning their first win by more than 20 points in conference play under Todd Golden largely on the strength of their burst out of halftime.
The Gators put together an extended 28-9 stretch over the first 9:28 — symmetry! — of play in the period, with a 12-2 blitz over the first 3:30 putting the Gamecocks behind by double digits for good. Smart defense that included several passing-lane picks generated 10 steals for Florida on the night, and those steals in turn ignited a transition offense that has been potent for the Gators all year.
Kowacie Reeves was one of the primary beneficiaries of that larceny, and had multiple dunks and a tremendous finish through a foul in transition en route to his 15 points off the bench. Colin Castleton’s 18 points came in spurts, and with an otherwise relatively light night (three rebounds, three assists. four blocks) for the big man.
But with Riley Kugel (14 points), Will Richard (10), and Kyle Lofton (10) all joining Reeves and Castleton in double figures, that didn’t really matter. And it might have been Myreon Jones — who fell short of double-figure scoring but still threatened a triple-double, with a nine-point, eight-rebound, 10-assist line — who had the best night of all, exemplified by his deft work to get two separate offensive rebounds on long threes and setup a third — which fell, and gave him an assist almost purely off hustle.
South Carolina’s G.G. Jackson had 20 points to lead all scorers, but needed 18 shots for them, and the Gamecocks played indifferent defense (Florida shot 47 percent from the floor despite hitting just seven of 27 threes) and sluggish, Jackson-centric offense for most of the evening. The game’s ugliest moment belonged to Carolina’s Zach Davis, too, as he tangled with Florida’s Niels Lane and threw a forearm that connected with Lane’s face midway through the second half just after South Carolina got a putback to cut the Gators’ lead to 23.
Davis and Lane were both given technical fouls, and Davis was ejected for a flagrant. Call that frustration a tribute of sorts to the yeoman’s work done by Lane on this night: He did not score — did not even take a shot — but played his usual aggressive defense so ferociously that he fouled out in just five minutes of play and also forced multiple defensive stops because of it.
On a night when precious little else went wrong for Florida — save, perhaps, some sloppiness while up big late from Kugel and others — Lane’s disqualification in a rare opportunity made available partly by Alex Fudge sitting due to injury and C.J. Felder remaining on leave from the team could be viewed as a bad thing, an example of being a little too handsy and physical.
But for a team that plays its best when it mashes the gas on the defensive end, Lane can be both avatar and catalyst. And if Florida is going to have the success it must against its coming gauntlet — Kansas State, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama, with only the Vols coming to Gainesville — then it could use the best contributions every Gator can provide.