Florida guard Jalen Hudson reached his hands toward South Carolina guard Frank Booker, committing one last desperation foul with 20 seconds remaining in the game.
Booker went to the line and sunk both free throws, icing a 77-72 win for the Gamecocks at the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night.
The last time Florida and South Carolina faced off, the Gamecocks earned a Final Four berth …
Unable to overcome a 6-for-23 clip from three-point territory — the Gators’ second-worst three-point shooting performance in SEC play this season — No. 20 UF (14-6, 6-2 SEC) suffered its third home loss of the year and its fourth against South Carolina (13-7, 4-4 SEC) in their last five meetings.
The game was tightly contested throughout, with Florida trailing 39-37 at halftime. While the Gators opened the second frame with an 11-0 run, South Carolina outscored Florida 38-24 in the final 16:11 of the game to pull off the victory.
“We were really good. We were really locked in,” Florida guard Egor Koulechov said, referring to the 11-0 run. “It’s a matter of ‘how many minutes can we go being locked in like that?’”
After scoring two of the Gators’ first three baskets, junior guard KeVaughn Allen went cold, failing to register another point until splitting a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left in the first half. He found his rhythm again in the second half, however, scoring in bunches and finishing with 15 points.
Redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett also scored a career-high nine points off the bench, showcasing his best performance of the season.
“I’m excited for (Bassett),” Hudson said. “We’re definitely going to need him down the stretch.”
Florida began to pull away from the Gamecocks midway through the opening period, leading by as much as 11 before South Carolina’s Chris Silva knocked down two free throws to reduce the deficit down to single digits with 5:12 remaining. The 6-foot-9 Silva finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, hitting 8-of-9 free throws.
After the Gators regained the lead quickly out of the break with 11 straight points, South Carolina responded with a three-pointer by guard Wesley Myers.
Several minutes later, the Gamecocks went on a 6-0 run, pulling within two points of Florida before tying the game at 51 on a three-pointer from Justin Minaya with 12:29 left.
Once again, UF had an answer, this time with a mid-range jumper by Koulechov, who finished the game with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Neither team led by more than five points until the final minute. Down 73-68 with 46.3 seconds left, Chiozza was fouled driving to the basket. The senior made both free throws, pulling Florida within three points of South Carolina.
On the next possession, Gators freshman Mike Okauru fouled Booker, who made both free throws to extend the Gamecocks’ lead back to five.
“They hit big shots. Timely shots,” Florida coach Mike White said about South Carolina after the game.
The conference foes continued to trade points back and forth in the final 39 seconds, with Hayes converting a layup and Booker sinking two more free throws before Chiozza missed a three-point shot in a frantic ending to the game.
The Gators’ next contest will be against Baylor (12-8, 2-6 Big 12) on Saturday at the O’Connell Center as a part of the fifth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tip off is set for noon and will mark the first time in nearly a month Florida has played back-to-back home games.