Brenton Williams’ night was a sign of how great of a season he’s had, although the result wasn’t nearly what he wanted.
Hounded by No. 1 Florida’s top-ranked SEC scoring defense, Williams, South Carolina’s leading scorer, couldn’t find an opening as the Gamecocks were pummeled 72-46 on Tuesday. The Gators (28-2, 17-0 SEC) clearly read the scouting report, not letting Williams loose so he break the 20-point barrier, as he had in three of the past four games. USC (11-19, 4-13) matched the Gators’ talent with energy and hustle in the first half, but didn’t have enough offense to overcome in the second.
Especially when Florida sharpshooter Michael Frazier stroked 11 3-pointers, setting a record for the most made in a conference game in SEC history.
“I thought we were late to him every single time,” coach Frank Martin said. “We, obviously, didn’t express to our players that Michael Frazier shoots the basketball. That, obviously, wasn’t communicated as well as it needed to be communicated.”
Williams, who ended with seven points, still made an impact. His first points came with 13 minutes to play in the second half, on an off-balance 3-pointer that he sank with an and-1 free throw. He connected on another 3 on the next possession, and Colonial Life Arena was jumping with the home team trailing 39-35.
But it was still the top-ranked Gators, seeking a perfect SEC season and not having tasted defeat since Dec. 2. And it was still USC, playing much better lately but unable to keep its big men on the floor because of foul trouble. Florida scored the next 18 points and pulled away.
“At halftime, even in a two-point game, I didn’t feel good,” Martin said. “I just didn’t see us having the fuel in the tank that you’ve got to have to sustain 40 minutes in the effort to defeat them. When they came out in the second half they had a hop in their step, and we didn’t have enough to match that.”
Williams, honored pregame with Bruce Ellington and manager Sean Dougherty, couldn’t get the defense off him during his final home game. Florida didn’t let the opponent’s best shooter beat it.
For a while, it seemed the strategy might backfire. Playing with the same emotion and heart as it did against Kentucky on Saturday, USC traded the lead with the Gators for most of the first half. The Gamecocks’ two Lithuanian sophomores, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas, combined for 15 points in the period, and Duane Notice had six.
Without Williams’ steady 15 points per game, though, USC foundered. The Gators were plenty dangerous without USC leaving Frazier, one of the top 3-point shooters in the league, wide open. Frazier canned five 3s without opposition in the first half on his way to 37 points for the game.
“That was, by far, the best defense I’ve seen from a team that defended me,” Williams said. “They did a pretty good job communicating as a team where I was at all times on the floor.”
“I thought (Scottie) Wilbekin worked as hard as he could,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought that everything (Williams) shot was under duress. He had to work for it.”
The Gamecocks’ turnovers mounted (19) as Florida’s defense never let up (17 steals). The final home game of the season featured a strong crowd, enough to solidify USC’s best average attendance in three seasons, but another defeat.
“They just take the ball and push it down the court, and we wouldn’t run back,” Martin said. “When you play the No. 1 team in the country, you want to wake up the next day and be able to say you laid it on the line. Our fatigue didn’t allow us to sustain.”
USC heads to Mississippi State on Saturday for the regular-season finale. The Gamecocks need to win to avoid finishing last in the SEC, and avoid posting the fifth 20-loss season in school history.
Young 3-6 3-5 9, Wilbekin 1-7 0-0 2, Yeguete 0-5 4-4 4, Frazier II 12-21 2-2 37, Prather 3-3 1-2 7, Hill 2-5 0-4 4, Finney-Smith 1-4 1-2 3, Edwards 0-0 0-0 0, C. Walker 2-3 0-0 4, D. Walker 0-3 0-0 0, Kurtz 1-1 0-0 2, Donovan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 11-19 72.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-19)
Thornwell 3-9 0-1 7, Williams 2-9 1-1 7, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Carrera 0-3 0-0 0, Kacinas 5-7 2-4 12, Notice 2-7 6-7 11, Chatkevicius 3-11 0-0 6, Theus Jr. 0-0 1-2 1, McKie 0-0 0-0 0, Ringer 0-0 0-0 0, Steele 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 16-50 10-15 46.
Halftime_Florida 28-26. 3-Point Goals_Florida 11-31 (Frazier II 11-18, Hill 0-1, Donovan 0-1, Finney-Smith 0-2, D. Walker 0-3, Wilbekin 0-6), South Carolina 4-16 (Williams 2-6, Notice 1-3, Thornwell 1-3, Steele 0-1, Carrera 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 38 (Finney-Smith 6), South Carolina 34 (Chatkevicius 9). Assists_Florida 16 (Finney-Smith 5), South Carolina 10 (Thornwell 4). Total Fouls_Florida 17, South Carolina 16. Technical_South Carolina Bench. Attendance_12,781.