Wes Myers, an unheralded senior transfer at his third school in four years, fittingly led South Carolina to a 77-72 win against Florida on Wednesday evening.
The Gamecocks were the 10.5-point underdogs against the SEC leaders and 20th-ranked team in the country. In a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight game, Florida brought more familiar faces to the O’Connell Center, most notably point guard Chris Chiozza.
Chiozza was the polished three-year starter at the game’s most important position. Myers entered the night barely known beyond Columbia.
But, then again, the entire USC team entered the night barely known beyond its hometown. Last week’s Kentucky win raised some eyebrows, but this victory – Carolina’s first against a ranked team on the road in two seasons – was a statement.
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Myers, a starter only since SEC play began, outmatched Chiozza with 22 points and four assists.
“Last couple days, we just focused on competing,” Myers said. “That’s it. He was my matchup, and I wanted to win my matchup.”
Chris Silva, bouncing back from a quiet showing in the Tennessee loss, added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Myers found the junior forward for a dunk with 3:29 left that put the Gamecocks (13-7, 4-4 SEC) up five.
The Gators (14-6, 6-2) never got within three the rest of the night.
“(Myers) and Chris have been the two reasons why we’ve been able to improve as a team,” said USC coach Frank Martin. “Chris has decided to just say, ‘The heck with everything, I’m not letting this happen anymore,’ and has taken ownership.
“And then Wes has grown up a lot.”
Myers, an August signee after stints at Niagara (2013-15) and Maine (2016-17), made a career-high five 3-pointers, perhaps none bigger than a 23-footer to beat the shot clock with 16:11 remaining.
The shot was Carolina’s first make of the second half. It ended UF’s 13-0 run, cutting the Gator advantage to six.
“Go make a play, be aggressive,” Myers said of his mentality in such a moment. “That’s what I did.”
South Carolina snapped a nine-game drought in which it failed to shoot at least 40 percent from the field. The Gamecocks, taking advantage of the SEC’s worst 3-point defense, went 11 of 21 from beyond the arc. They shot 43.6 percent overall, their best showing since Dec. 9 against Coastal Carolina.
Maik Kotsar (jump-hook over two defenders at the 2:30 mark) and Silva (face-up jumper over 6-foot-9 Kevarrius Hayes with 1:39 to go) provided USC’s final two FGs. From there, Frank Booker made four consecutive free throws.
“We couldn’t find a way to get a stop,” said Gators coach Mike White. “And they beat us in a different way than I think any of us would’ve predicted – they killed us from 3.”
Florida entered with that kind of reputation, but the SEC’s top 3-point shooting team was held to six makes on 23 attempts from downtown.
Chiozza, 0 for 2 from deep and 2 of 7 overall, had 10 points and eight assists.
“That’s big,” Silva said of Myers. “He played great defense today, he ran the team. That was big for him tonight.”
Keeping with an underdog theme, Martin, in a battle against foul trouble, exhausted his lineup options in the first half. On two occasions, the Gamecocks were represented by four freshmen and a veteran guard.
USC even got a productive five minutes from little-used Khadim Gueye. The sophomore center, showing awareness in the lane, found an open Felipe Haase, who kicked to Justin Minaya for a game-tying 3-pointer with 3:11 left. On Florida’s ensuing possession, the 7-foot Gueye blocked Jalen Hudson’s shot.
South Carolina, down by as many as 11 in the opening period, led 39-37 at the break.
The final result needed all hands on deck. Martin orchestrated USC’s first win in this 10,000-seat arena since January 2011.
“Those kids, they’ve grown up,” Martin said of a team that’s jelling at a good time.
Carolina next hosts No. 14 Texas Tech on Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA (13-7): Kotsar 3-6 2-2 9, Silva 5-9 8-9 18, Minaya 2-5 0-0 6, Myers 8-15 1-2 22, Hinson 3-6 0-0 8, Haase 1-4 3-4 5, Cudd 0-0 0-0 0, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Booker 1-3 4-4 7, Gravett 1-4 0-1 2, Beatty 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-55 18-22 77.
FLORIDA (14-6): Stone 1-3 0-2 2, Hayes 2-5 0-0 4, Koulechov 6-11 3-3 16, Allen 5-15 2-3 15, Chiozza 2-7 6-6 10, Bassett 2-2 5-7 9, Gak 0-1 0-0 0, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Hudson 6-12 2-2 16. Totals 24-56 18-23 72.
Halftime—South Carolina 39-37. 3-Point Goals—South Carolina 11-21 (Myers 5-7, Minaya 2-3, Hinson 2-4, Kotsar 1-1, Booker 1-2, Gravett 0-1, Beatty 0-1, Haase 0-2), Florida 6-23 (Allen 3-9, Hudson 2-6, Koulechov 1-4, Stone 0-2, Chiozza 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—South Carolina 29 (Silva 12), Florida 27 (Koulechov 8). Assists—South Carolina 14 (Kotsar, Myers 4), Florida 10 (Chiozza 8). Total Fouls—South Carolina 19, Florida 17. A—10,550 (10,133).