South Carolina guard Frank Booker sprinted toward the basket on a fastbreak opportunity midway through the second half. With no one in his sight, Booker went up for what appeared to be an easy layup, only to have Florida center Kevarrius Hayes come from behind to swat the ball off the backboard and into the hands of guard Jalen Hudson.
In the Gators men’s basketball team’s 65-41 win against the Gamecocks on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina, Hayes’ block highlighted a defensive effort that saw UF hold South Carolina to its season-low in points.
“It’s a good example of what this team is capable of,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We didn’t display having any excuses.”
Florida could have made excuses, as White pointed out. The Gamecocks were a bigger team that featured three players 6-foot-10 or taller, while the Gators only have one. UF also has an injury-riddled team, as center John Egbunu and forwards Isaiah Stokes and Chase Johnson were all inactive.
Instead, Florida focused on crashing the boards, taking a 46-24 rebounding advantage. UF’s plus-22 rebounding margin was the highest of the season.
“Everybody contributed defensively and on the glass,” White said. “We were focused on the right stuff.”
Every player that entered the game for the Gators recorded at least one rebound or block. Guards Egor Koulechov and Chris Chiozza and forward Dontay Bassett notched a team-high seven rebounds each, while forward Keith Stone led the team with three blocks.
Florida has had solid defensive performances from players like Chiozza and Hayes in the past, but Saturday’s matchup with South Carolina was one of the few times when everyone contributed to the team’s defensive effort. At least up to the standard of its coach.
“We need that every night,” White said.
Aside from the boards, the Gators blocked 10 shots and stole the ball three times. Florida held the Gamecocks to just six points off its 14 turnovers, three second-chance points and two fastbreak points.
Facing smothering defense over the final eight and a half minutes, South Carolina made only one of its last 15 shots. The Gators showed what they can do when they keep up the pressure their coach is looking for, bouncing back against a Gamecocks team that beat them 77-72 on Jan. 24.
But with a defensive performance like this in Florida’s repertoire, White knows what to expect from his team moving forward.
“Just play with as much energy as we’ve played with all year,” he said. “That’s the standard.”