Keyshawn Bryant struggled — and then he caught fire. Chris Silva barely played in the first half — and then became a hero in the second. South Carolina’s season was a disappointment — and now it’s got new life.
Using an unpredictable script, USC rallied from a 14-point deficit to shock Florida, 71-69, before a crowd of 10,230 at Exactech Arena on Saturday night.
Forget that shaky non-conference performance. The Gamecocks (6-7 overall) are 1-0 in the SEC. Silva’s dunk, coming after a full-court pass from Felipe Haase, completed the rally with 2.5 seconds left. Florida (8-5) couldn’t muster a shot attempt at the final buzzer.
For a second straight year, Carolina has a wild win on UF’s home floor.
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“I guess league play’s here,” said USC coach Frank Martin.
The above was Martin’s opening line to his post-game news conference. He went on to detail how Bryant went from a turnover-machine frustrated freshman to looking like a trusted veteran, how Silva shook off early foul trouble to provide a fitting final bucket and how his team never quit in a hostile atmosphere.
“We’ve been growing up a lot over the last five weeks,” Martin said. “We just beat a real good team. We played some real good teams in non-conference play. And we just beat a real good team today. I’m proud of these guys.”
After struggling for most of the game, Bryant was a different player when it mattered most. The Winter Haven, Florida, native, who had his own cheering section at the top of the arena, scored six straight points to have the Gamecocks tied with the Gators with 4:39 to go. A Silva bucket put the Gamecocks ahead, 67-66, a few moments later.
Bryant, who committed seven turnovers in the first half, finished with eight points.
“Being a freshman, it was pretty rough for me,” Bryant said. “But I got older teammates and older guys that are on my side. They helped me through the situation.”
Silva made a couple free throws with 1:36 left to give USC a 69-68 advantage. Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes tied the game with a FT with 3.5 second left.
That led to the final two of Silva’s 18 points — all coming in the second half. (Because of two early fouls, the senior played four first half minutes.)
In the timeout before it happened, Martin called on Maik Kotsar to throw the pass. But Kotsar told Martin his shoulder was hurting. The next option was Haase, who had never been the QB for that kind of play in practice.
“Honestly I didn’t think he’d have the courage to throw it,” Silva said. “But he did. And the rest ...”
Is history. Silva’s slammed plenty of times in his career. Was this his best?
“I don’t know,” Silva said. “It’s just one of them, I guess.”
The Gamecocks mostly relied on a veteran guard to keep them hanging around. Senior Hassani Gravett, playing his third game in this venue, came off the bench to score 22 points. Despite Silva sitting the final 16 minutes because of foul trouble, Carolina only trailed 36-32 at halftime. The deficit remained at four with 14:53 left after a Gravett layup.
It looked as though USC wouldn’t get any closer from there. Silva fought through a foul to score and cut the advantage to seven at the 9:33 mark. He flexed after the bucket, hinting that Carolina had grabbed back a bit of momentum.
The Gators scored 25 points off USC’s season-high 22 turnovers. Their three-quarters-court press was effective and allowed them to establish their preferred slower pace.
Gravett missed a right wing 3 that would have trimmed the lead to four with 7:39 left. Later, the Gamecocks made those buckets and got enough clutch stops to stay within reach.
Down 68-67 with 2:21 left, South Carolina was whistled for a key shot clock violation. On its next possession, Silva made a couple free throws to put the Gamecocks back ahead.
Florida, which led by as many as 13 in the first half, got 17 points from freshman guard Noah Locke.
South Carolina’s taken three of its last four over Florida, including in the 2017 Elite Eight and last year when the Gators were ranked No. 24.
Who: No. 17 Mississippi State at South Carolina
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
|SOUTH CAROLINA (6-7)|
Silva 5-6 8-9 18, Bryant 4-8 0-0 8, Kotsar 1-4 2-6 4, Campbell 2-8 0-0 6, Lawson 2-8 1-1 6, Frink 0-0 0-0 0, Haase 1-3 3-4 5, Gravett 7-11 4-5 22, Hinson 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-51 18-25 71.
Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Hayes 1-1 1-2 3, Nembhard 3-10 4-4 10, Allen 4-6 0-0 10, Locke 5-16 2-2 17, Bassett 2-3 2-4 6, K.Johnson 0-6 1-2 1, Stokes 3-5 0-0 6, Okauru 0-1 0-0 0, Ballard 3-3 1-2 8, Hudson 2-8 3-4 8. Totals 23-61 14-20 69.
Halftime_Florida 36-32. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 7-18 (Gravett 4-7, Campbell 2-5, Lawson 1-4, Haase 0-1, Hinson 0-1), Florida 9-31 (Locke 5-15, Allen 2-2, Ballard 1-1, Hudson 1-5, Stone 0-1, Bassett 0-1, K.Johnson 0-1, Nembhard 0-5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_South Carolina 32 (Kotsar 7), Florida 30 (K.Johnson 6). Assists_South Carolina 10 (Campbell 4), Florida 12 (Nembhard 7). Total Fouls_South Carolina 23, Florida 25.