The Gators scored the first basket of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks and never relinquished the lead.
UF finished the night with 21 assists and only six turnovers.
Florida head coach Todd Golden was most proud of his team’s ball movement and unselfishness, he said. It was a great feeling to see his team win five out of its last six games, he said.
“Just a really complete effort from the team,” Golden said.
The Florida Gators (12-8, 5-3 SEC) defeated the Gamecocks (8-12, 1-6 SEC) 81-60 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Wednesday night. Florida shot 47% in the game and outscored South Carolina 40-26 in the paint.
Florida held South Carolina to only five made 3-pointers in the game. UF did a good job of keeping the Gamecocks out of transition, and away from the 3-point line, Golden said.
“That was our biggest key tonight,” Golden said.
Florida was without sophomore forward Alex Fudge, who sustained an injury against Mississippi State Jan. 21. The team stepped up defensively despite playing undersized, Golden said.
The Gators forced 15 South Carolina turnovers, and it resulted in 16 points. UF graduate student forward Colin Castleton led the team with 18 points. Five Gators players scored in the double figures.
Gators sophomore guard Will Richard got the action started by tossing up an alley-oop to Castleton, who slammed it home.
Castleton followed the highlight with another basket inside and added a block on the other end of the floor. He scored Florida’s first six points, finding space down low for early buckets.
The Gators jumped out to an 8-4 lead after graduate student guard Kyle Lofton drove to the cup and found space to finish the layup.
Richard found himself open in the corner and nailed an open triple. His shot was the Gators’ first 3-pointer of the game — they missed their first three attempts.
Florida’s early lead was cut to four points when Gamecocks guard Chico Carter Jr. hit a three of his own.
Reeves knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the arc coming out of a media timeout. UF’s defense suffocated South Carolina forward Gregory Jackson II and forced him to airball his next shot.
Reeves scored his second 3-pointer of the game a few possessions later, but the Gators followed the play up with a two-minute-long scoring drought.
Lofton later stole the ball and scored a transition layup. Castleton drove down the baseline and beat his defender to push Florida’s lead to double figures.
South Carolina made its first trip to the charity stripe with 4:49 left in the first half. Jackson knocked down both shots to cut the lead back to single digits. The Gamecocks got to the line again when center Josh Gray scored inside and converted a three-point play.
Reeves ended the Gamecocks’ 5-0 run. Senior center Jason Jitoboh blocked South Carolina’s shot, and Lofton lofted an assist to Reeves for a transition slam. The Gators led at halftime 34-26.
Golden was pleased with Lofton and Jones's play in the backcourt, he said. The two guards combined for 11 assists and zero turnovers.
“They’re Batman and Robin in the backcourt,” Golden said. “They’ve made us really, really good over the past couple weeks.”
The Gators scored five in a row early in the second half. Lofton made a mid-range jumper, and Kugel drained an open corner three on the next possession.
Florida continued to attack South Carolina from inside the paint. Castleton found graduate student guard Myreon Jones cutting to the basket for a layup and a three-point play.
On the next play, Jones threw an alley-oop to Kugel — who soared up for the dunk — to finish a 7-0 run. Castleton blocked a shot on the other end to get the O’Dome crowd cheering.
South Carolina responded with a 5-0 run of its own, but Castleton halted it with a bucket. He pump-faked down low, went up for the score, and drew a foul on the score. He hit the free throw to complete the three-point play.
Lofton faked a turn toward the paint — a move that put his defender out of position — and drove to the cup for an open layup. Richard hit a pair of free throws on the next play to push the Gators' run to 9-0 and give them a 20-point lead.
Florida junior guard Niels Lane — who played in his first game since Dec. 4 —- found Castleton for another dunk.
Reeves knocked down another 3-pointer in transition as the lead continued to swell. Junior guard Trey Bonham snagged a rebound on the next possession; he quickly found Jones for a fast-break layup as UF went on a 7-0 run.
The Gators continued to find shots after Jones grabbed two offensive rebounds to extend the possession. Jones kicked the ball out to Kugel, who drilled an open triple. Richard continued Florida’s momentum with a three of his own.
A Jones layup pushed Florida’s run to 10 straight before Carter stopped the bleeding with a layup.
Kugel stole the ball and handed it off to Lofton. The freshman guard raced up the court and caught Lofton’s lob for a dunk that pushed UF’s lead to 30 points. Kugel finished the game with 14 points — a new career high.
Reeves capped off his night with a break-away slam dunk. He ended the game with 15 points — his most since Florida’s game against Auburn Dec. 28.
His teammates gave him the confidence to keep shooting during his slump, Reeves said. The support helped him take shots even when they weren’t falling.
“You miss two it feels like you miss five,” he said. “It helped me a lot knowing that I can just make a basket.”
Jones finished the game with nine points, eight assists and 10 rebounds.
The Gators will head back out on the road to play the Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan, Kansas, Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN 2.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.