USC Men's Basketball

Battle of SEC’s best defenses belongs to Gamecocks

Frank Martin reacts after Gamecocks' win over Florida

South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin speaks after the team's 57-53 win over Florida at Colonial Life Arena.
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South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin speaks after the team's 57-53 win over Florida at Colonial Life Arena.

He’s the guy who got them there, so why wouldn’t he be the guy to keep them there?

Sindarius Thornwell capped a 20-point night with a free throw with 16 seconds left that was the clinching point in a 57-53 win over No. 19 Florida on Wednesday. The No. 24 Gamecocks remained in first place in the SEC and head to Rupp Arena Saturday to take on the SEC’s only other undefeated team.

USC wasn’t thinking of No. 5 Kentucky just yet. Wednesday was a night to celebrate a game that was often ugly and frequently galling – but there was nothing negative about a win.

“I was watching them on film and I had no idea how we were going to score. None,” coach Frank Martin said. “But we fought and fought and fought and battled foul trouble. Really, really proud of our guys.”

The Gamecocks won despite shooting 29.4 percent and leaving 11 points at the free-throw line. They won as Florida (14-4, 5-1 SEC) relentlessly drove the lane and with 55 fouls thrown around like Halloween candy.

But as Martin said after the win at Tennessee, it doesn’t matter what it looked like or how it came about. It only matters that they won.

And this was a win that will look awfully nice in March, when the selection committee sits down to debate USC’s résumé.

Now to keep polishing it.

“Lot of rumors going around that Florida and Kentucky are the only good teams in the conference, but we don’t pay no attention,” Thornwell said. “We get one win, and we keep it moving.”

South Carolina men's basketball senior Sindarius Thornwell speaks after the team's 57-53 win over Florida at Colonial Life Arena.

The game between the best two defenses in the league was scoreless for the first five minutes and turnovers stacked up. When Chris Silva picked up his second foul early in the period, the Gators took advantage.

Kasey Hill couldn’t be stopped going into the paint and when he began turning steals into layups, USC (15-3, 5-0) was in trouble. The Gamecocks limped to halftime, assessed the foul trouble and regrouped.

The Gators hit one field goal in the first 15 minutes of the second half as whistles tweeted a symphony. Neither team could hit free throws consistently – Florida was 15-for-28 while USC finished 23-for-34 – but the thinner Gators began to feel the crunch.

P.J. Dozier tied the score at 30 with two free throws and USC stretched the lead to six before the Gators fought back. Canyon Barry, the former College of Charleston star, began to take Hill’s role by driving to the rim to keep it a one-shot game.

Thornwell got into the paint and was fouled for two shots, then watched Dozier soar for a layup.

“P.J., give him credit,” Martin said. “With the game on the line, he saw a crack and they were kind of sitting on the play and he saw his man kind of relax and he went.”

As Barry missed a 3-pointer with USC up four – breaking an incredible 850-game streak where Florida made at least one 3 – the Gamecocks got the carom, saw two seconds left on the clock … and that was it.

They have a defining win. They remain in first place.

Why stop there?

NOTE: Backup point guard Hassani Gravett missed the game because of illness. … Thornwell rose into 10th on USC’s career scoring chart.

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FLORIDA (14-4)

Leon 0-4 0-0 0, Robinson 4-11 0-2 8, Egbunu 2-3 3-7 7, Hill 5-8 1-3 11, Allen 0-3 1-2 1, Stone 0-3 1-5 1, Hayes 2-3 2-2 6, Rimmer 1-2 0-0 2, Chiozza 1-4 2-2 4, Barry 4-13 5-5 13. Totals 19-54 15-28 53.


Silva 3-8 5-5 11, Kotsar 2-6 1-2 5, Dozier 2-9 6-9 10, Thornwell 5-11 9-13 20, Notice 0-2 0-0 0, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Keita 0-1 1-3 1, Blanton 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 1-3 0-0 3, Felder 2-11 1-2 7. Totals 15-51 23-34 57.

Halftime: Florida 28-21. 3-Point Goals: Florida 0-17 (Leon 0-2, Robinson 0-2, Allen 0-2, Chiozza 0-2, Stone 0-3, Barry 0-6), South Carolina 4-13 (Felder 2-5, McKie 1-1, Thornwell 1-2, Notice 0-2, Dozier 0-3). Fouled Out: Keita, Hill. Rebounds: Florida 32 (Robinson 10), South Carolina 37 (Kotsar 9). Assists: Florida 8 (Chiozza 4), South Carolina 8 (Felder 3). Total Fouls: Florida 27, South Carolina 28.

South Carolina defeated Florida 57-53 on Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena.

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