Gamecock basketball: 'Cocks falter early, falter late against Gators

Tyrone Johnson and the Gamecocks couldn't keep pace with the Florida Gators on Wednesday night. - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A run of 14-1 to start the game and a 12-0 run in the second half were more than enough for the Florida Gators to beat South Carolina 74-58 in both teams' opening SEC game.

After 11 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, it seemed like the story of the game would be easy to tell - the Gamecocks couldn't protect the ball, and the Gators jumped out to 30-14 lead.

But Carolina settled down over the next 24 minutes, and while they were never likely to beat Florida (the lead only shrunk to eight points once before the Gators extended it back into double digits for the rest of the night), South Carolina hung with the favorite to win the SEC over the rest of the game, though a 12-0 run late in the second half extended the lead to over 20 for a spell.  It's not a victory - moral or otherwise - but it certainly suggests this team's come a long way from the group that trailed 55-15 in the second half of last year's contest in Gainesville.

Advanced Box Score
USC FLA
18-41 FG 26-45
5-10 3P 5-19
17-26 FT 17-24
9 OREB 5
19 DREB 20
21 TO 15
66 POSS 66
Four Factors
50.00% eFG 63.33%
31.88% TO 22.77%
31.03% OReb 20.83%
63.41% FTR 53.33%
Shooting
41.94% 2P% 80.77%
50.00% 3P% 26.32%
24.39% 3PA% 42.22%
65.38% FT% 70.83%
Score
58 Score 74
0.880 PPP 1.123
1.292 Non-TO: 1.455


By the end of the night, the story of the game was only partially turnovers - thanks to the Gamecocks edge in rebounding on the defensive end, they only allowed four additional FGs (and took two more FTAs) to the Gators.

Carolina started with man defense in the first five minutes, until it became immediately apparent that they were not going to be able to stop Florida's dribble-drive with that strategy.  So instead, the Gamecocks settled into a zone defense for most of the evening, and that led to Florida taking a high percentage of its shots from outside - 19 of their 45 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and their 26% conversion rate helped keep Carolina from getting blown out.

The Gamecocks did nice work from downtown themselves, hitting 50% of their shots (5-10), though their choice to take less than a quarter of their FGAs from there meant the advantage didn't really help out as much as it could've if they'd shot more from outside.

So what was the difference?  Inside.  The Gators were 21-26 from 2PA, while Carolina was 13-31.  Of those 21 makes, 20 of them were in the paint.  The zone helped keep the Gators out of the paint at times, but when they got the ball inside, Patric Young (6 of 7), Casey Prather (5-5), Dorian Finney-Smith (3-4), and Will Yeguette (2-2) couldn't miss.  Carolina's interior defense still remains a huge liability.

For Carolina, Tyrone Johnson led the Gamecocks with 12 points, though he only shot 3-10 from the field (his 6-7 effort from the line helped out).  Brenton Williams scored 10 points on 10 FGAs (2-4 from 2PA, 2-6 from 3PA) and added three steals as well.  For the second straight game, Duane Notice couldn't avoid turnovers, with five in 33 minutes offset only by three assists.

Thornwell struggled with turnovers as well (four), though he did score 10 points and helped atone with 3 steals on the defensive end.  Inside, South Carolina didn't actually play too terribly, with the post players shooting a combined 6-11 from the field (and 6-10 from the line).  The problem wasn't that they were terrible when they shot, but that they didn't shoot enough, which again put too much pressure on the guards to avoid turnovers and create shots against the swarming Florida defense.

It's never fun to lose, but it's good to see Carolina put in 40 minutes of effort and find some positives in the game, though not really from the scoreboard.  It's a game that Carolina never really expected to see land in the win column, so to the extent its realistic goals centered around getting to .500 in SEC play, those weren't really impacted by the effort tonight.  Instead, Carolina actually did a fair bit to validate what people were beginning to believe based on recent play - this team may not be great, and certainly isn't ready to make the NCAA tournament, but they're a lot better than they were not just 12 months ago, but even 2 months ago.

The Gamecocks return home to open SEC play on Saturday against LSU, which is reeling off two straight losses - a disappointing 74-70 home loss to Rhode Island and a 68-50 shellacking at the hands of the rapidly improving Tennessee Volunteers.  The game tips off at 1:30pm from the Colonial Life Arena and can be watched on the SEC TV network.

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