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Gamecocks can’t keep up, fall 81-68 to Gators in SEC opener

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Not the start we were looking for.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t exactly how you want to start conference play.

The South Carolina Gamecocks, coming off a listless and bafflingly bad performance against Stetson, just couldn’t hang with the Florida Gators on Tuesday, falling 81-68 despite having numerous opportunities late to tie or take the lead.

Andrew Nembhard was unguardable for UF, putting up a game-leading 21 points with 10 assists, and the Gators always had an answer whenever the Gamecocks started putting together a run. While Florida held just a 30-27 lead at halftime and South Carolina mounted multiple challenges in the second stanza, drawing within a point twice, the Gators kept the Gamecocks safely at arm’s length with a well-timed basket or run of their own.

Maik Kotsar was the standout for South Carolina in this one, notching a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Three other Gamecocks reached double figures — Keyshawn Bryant (14), A.J. Lawson (12), and Jair Bolden (12) — but Lawson continues to struggle through a recent slump, and Justin Minaya (4 points) has been missing in action as well. While it’s great that Kotsar has answered the call in his senior season, he’s not the kind of talent you can build a team around, and the Gamecocks need much more than just him.

To make matters even worse in a frustrating loss, the optics of this interaction between coach Frank Martin and freshman Jalyn McCreary on the sideline were uh, not great, to say the least:

Martin later defended this by explaining that he was just shoving McCreary toward the scorer’s table to check in, but it goes without saying that these kinds of antics — while they shouldn’t be tolerated in any scenario — are only permissible as long as you’re winning. We’ll see what kind of fallout, if any, this produces; there are certainly Martin skeptics within USC circles who have always disliked this behavior, and if the team continues to struggle, those voices will only get louder.

One positive? South Carolina made 13 of its first 14 free throws and finished 18-of-24 for the game. Progress!

The Gamecocks (8-6, 0-1 SEC) are back in action at Tennessee on Saturday.