GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a span of 82 seconds, the South Carolina’s men’s basketball team had lost a 10-point lead and was tied with Florida at 59 after Alex Tyus’ dunk off a missed free throw with three minutes left.
But the Gamecocks, with a crowd of 12,158 screaming in their ears, regrouped. USC guard Bruce Ellington, playing in his second SEC road game, came down the court and cooly made a jumper to regain the lead. Two minutes later, forward Sam Muldrow put the game out of reach with a 3-pointer in the Gamecocks’ 72-69 victory.
“He hit a big shot, you got to call him ‘Big Shot,’ ” USC guard Ramon Galloway said of Ellington.
As USC tried to maintain its lead late in the game, USC coach Darrin Horn told his team in the huddle this was the situation they wanted to be in.
“We wanted to be challenged, and we wanted to try to respond and put ourselves in a situation where we’ve got to get stops and got to (make) plays. Because that’s the only way we’re going to grow up,” Horn said. “In this league we’re going to have a lot of games like that.”
The win was USC’s first against Florida (13-4, 2-1 SEC) in Gainesville since 2006 and snapped the Gators’ five-game winning streak. It was the second consecutive Saturday that USC beat a SEC team expected to be an NCAA tournament contender. The Gamecocks (11-5, 2-1) upended then No.-22 Vanderbilt in overtime a week ago.
Against Florida, Ellington led USC with 23 points, adding four rebounds and three assists. Three other Gameoccks — Muldrow, Brian Richardson and Lakeem Jackson — scored 10 apiece.
Ellington left the game for nearly four minutes in the second half with a mild groin strain. After he returned with less than 11 minutes remaining, the freshman scored 10 points, including a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left.
Ellington said he fed off the Gator crowd. So did Galloway, who had career highs with six assists and six rebounds.
“You got to love it,” Galloway said. “The atmosphere was crazy.”
USC was helped by Florida’s poor free-throw shooting late, including two misses in the final minute. The Gators shot 54.5 percent for the game from the line.
Horn said the play where Muldrow hit his clutch 3-pointer was designed for either he or Ellington “to get your two best players involved in something and see what can happen.”
Ellington said Muldrow was setting a screen, but the Florida defender overcommitted. That allowed Ellington to pass to an open Muldrow, who sank his 11th 3-pointer of the season.
USC took control of the game with a 15-2 run toward the end of the first half. The Gamecocks’ defense denied the Gators second chances, and six different players scored during the run to give USC a 10-point halftime lead.
USC outrebounded Florida 7-3 during the run and 39-36 in the game. The Gamecocks were the fourth team to outrebound the Gators this season.
Defense triggered the run, “just sitting down guarding and grabbing rebounds,” Galloway said. “It helps out your offense a lot.”
USC reversed itself from a tough loss at Alabama last Wednesday. USC shot 44.8 percent from the field and had eight turnovers Saturday, compared to 28.6 percent and 20 turnovers against the Tide.
The Gamecocks start a three-game homestand Wednesday against Arkansas.
“We haven’t done anything,” Horn said. “We’re 2-1 (in the league) and there’s 13 games left. If we come out like we’ve done something, then it’s not going to help us for Wednesday.”
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .443, FT .733.
3-Point Goals: 7-21, .333 (Ellington 3-7, Richardson 2-4, Cooke 1-2, Muldrow 1-2, Harris 0-1, Smith 0-2, Galloway 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Muldrow 3, Harris 3, Galloway).
Turnovers: 8 (Jackson 3, Cooke 2, Ellington, Muldrow, Galloway).
Steals: 4 (Cooke, Harris, Ellington, Richardson).
Technical Fouls: None.
|FLORIDA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .448, FT .545.
3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Walker 3-6, Parsons 1-3, Boynton 1-4).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Macklin 2, Tyus, Young, Parsons).
Turnovers: 9 (Parsons 3, Walker 2, Wilbekin 2, Boynton, Macklin).
Steals: 2 (Wilbekin, Young).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Anthony Jordan, Mike Nance, Roger Ayers.