The Gamecocks struggled to facilitate the ball early on in the first half, couldn’t finish inside and failed to capitalize on fast break opportunities as they lost to Florida 63-71.
Right out the gate, Florida's defense came out in a full-court press and successfully stopped Carolina’s offense from setting up. It took almost 17 minutes for the Gamecocks to register its first assist. At this point, the team was trailing 30-20. The majority of the team's points came off isolated layups or jump shots up until that point.
The Gamecocks only recorded one more assist beyond that point for two total at the half. Florida’s constant full-court press and man-to-man defense coupled with a lackadaisical effort on the Carolina side contributed to the poor shooting night.
“In the first half, I thought Florida set the tone for the energy and the physicality that they were gonna play with, and I didn’t think we were very good from that standpoint early in the game,” head coach Frank Martin said. “We didn’t play with the aggression that we have to play.”
Coach Martin expressed his disappointment with his team's aggression, particularly on offense. He said he felt throughout the game they weren’t putting in as much effort as Florida in creating offense for one another.
One bright spot for South Carolina was their 21-8 offensive rebounding advantage over the Gators. However, this advantage was dismantled by a strong interior defensive performance by Florida.
The Gators, led by senior forward Colin Castleton’s 8 blocks, shut down the Gamecock’s interior offense. Despite the fact that the Gamecock’s shot 26 more shots from two-point range than the Gators, the Gamecocks made two fewer shots. In total, The Gamecocks shot 53 shots from two-point range and the Gators shot 27 shots. This was caused by Florida's ability to contest South Carolina shots near the basket.
“When you drive the ball and you’re a non-dunker, and the 7-footer is standing under the net waiting for you and you try to shoot it over him, that’s a bad shot,” Martin said. “Bad shots aren’t just from 30-feet, there’s bad shots at 5-feet and 2-feet. We took a lot of bad shots today.”
Senior guard Erik Stevenson shared a similar sentiment and said the team simply played into Florida’s defense too often, resulting in several lost possessions and Gators’ points off turnovers.
At a glance, the turnover battle seemed favorable for the Gamecocks as they held a 9-15 advantage. Additionally, they also led in total steals 10-8. Ultimately, the difference was how those steals and turnovers converted into points.
Martin emphasized postgame the turnovers the Gators caused often led to fast-break points for them, whereas the turnovers the Gamecocks caused did not lead to fast-break opportunities.
This loss puts the Gamecocks at 10-6 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. They will next play at Arkansas on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.