South Carolina players came trickling onto the floor well over an hour before tipping off with Florida. The Gator student section wasn’t yet full — but it was living up to its reputation.
“Bloom-ing on-ion,” the Rowdy Reptiles chanted at USC guard Hassani Gravett, poking fun at the senior’s unique hair style. “Bloom-ing on-ion!”
Gravett hardly acknowledged the teasing as he picked a basketball off a rack at mid-court and began his pre-game shooting routine. Later Saturday evening, Gravett (22 points) got the last laugh as USC rallied from 14 down to upset the Gators at Exactech Arena.
The win gives the Gamecocks consecutive victories in Gainesville for the time time since 1997-98. In a span of 346 days, Carolina twice conquered one of the SEC’s toughest environments.
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An announced crowd of 10,550 left disappointed last year after Wes Myers’ 22 points helped USC beat then-No. 20 Florida. There were 10,230 in the house Saturday to witness Gravett’s four 3s and Chris Silva’s winning dunk.
South Carolina (6-7 overall, 1-0 SEC) welcomes No. 14 Mississippi State (12-1) to Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday. What the Gamecocks played in over the weekend? Frank Martin would like a garnet and black version of that against the Bulldogs.
“Florida sold out their SEC home opener,” the USC coach said Monday. “We had to play in front of a rowdy student section. ... We need a good home court environment (Tuesday).”
After No. 3 Virginia’s appearance, CLA is about to host a top 15 team for the second time in a month — but only 19th time in the building’s 16-year history. Martin is 1-4 against top 15 opponents in Columbia, including a stunning of No. 10 Auburn last February.
Come to CLA on Tuesday and you might catch the home team jelling at a good time.
“We’re learning how to practice every day,’ Martin said. “We attack practice every day with a different mindset than we did November 1. And that’s the journey, to keep getting better there.”
Gravett vs. the Bulldogs
Prior to this season, Gravett had arguably the best game of his career the last time USC played Mississippi State.
The then-junior, shaking off a challenging year in which he struggled as the team’s top point guard, had 19 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that forced overtime in Starkville. (The Bulldogs outscored the Gamecocks 10-6 in the extra session to grab the win.)
Back at his natural off-guard position in 2018-19, Gravett is averaging a career-best 10.8 points a game and shooting a career-best 47.5 percent from the field.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence, shooting the ball well,” said sophomore forward Felipe Haase. “That’s what he did there (at Mississippi State) last year.”
Haase’s clutch baseball pass to Silva on Saturday has made some wonder if he’s playing the wrong sport.
“A lot of people texted me, ‘You gotta play football now,’” Haase said with a laugh Monday. “You play around throwing balls like that, but I’ve never done it in a game. In high school, we used to throw quick long outlet passes, but never like a touchdown pass.
“But I’m glad it worked.”
For the record, Haase, a native Chilean, has never played football.
The Gamecocks got one of their injured players back Saturday — Alanzo Frink came off his sprained ankle for a two-minute appearance — but they’re still waiting on another.
Justin Minaya, sidelined since knee surgery in November, has yet to be cleared. Martin said the waiting game has been weighing on the sophomore swingman.
“His biggest problem is a good problem.” Martin said. “He wants to help the team. He’s tired of sitting on the side. But Mother Nature and God, it heals everyone differently. He just has to trust that we’re close to the end as far as him finalizing the whole rehab and getting himself ready to go.”
Who: No. 14 Mississippi State at South Carolina
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena