The Florida Gators got a little revenge Wednesday night as they tussled with the Gamecocks. Now, admittedly, I wanted a rout considering the way that they lost two weeks ago and the way my heart felt when I walked out of Colonial Life Arena.
I was completely stunned. The Gators gave them that game in the last three minutes with missed free throws and a lapse in focus. But, this game was a tight and hard-fought game and both teams shot well.
This time, the Gators protected home court and shot a better percentage behind the arc. The Gators were 10-22 from the three-point line. They also had better passing. The Gators' passing decisions were disturbing to watch for me in Columbia.
Even more important though is the Gators now own first place in the SEC East. The Gators are now 6-2 and 19-4 overall. Kentucky seems to be reeling the other way and having lost two consecutive games with the loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday night. Tennessee moves into second place at 4-2 while South Carolina and Kentucky are tied for third in the East at 5-3.
There were six Gators in double figures and they needed every bit of that. Nick Calathes lead the way with 22, Alex Tyus had a monster, all-around game and put in 19, Irving Walker came off the bench and contributed 18, Chandler Parson had 14 (he seemed to struggle from the outside, but you can tell his game and tenacity is at an improved level), Walter Hodge contributed 12 (I thought he imposed his leadership and experience in this game and helped put it away with his stroke at the line), and Dan Werner had 10.
I was most impressed with Donovan's game plan in using Walker. He put Walker on Devan Downey defensively most of the night. I felt that Walker in this defensive position along with his speed were key to the game.
Downey seemed to be bothered by this move and got into foul trouble early, collecting two fouls in the first half and his third and fourth in the second half. Of course, that foul trouble bought him some time on the bench.
Gamecock Coach Horn had to then use him only on offense in the last few seconds. His absence on the court—on both ends—hurt the Gamecocks.
Coach Horn had them playing good ball and seemed to have injected a lot of energy and will into this team and the program as a whole. If they continue to play well, I think they can make the big dance—not something that I thought was possible at the beginning of the season or even as we approach SEC play with their soft out-of-conference play.
I have been skeptical about the Gamecocks, but I give them credit for coming into the Dome and playing very well. They had just came off of a big win against Kentucky at home—something that they had not done in decades.
They could have easily have been complacent and not shown up for this one. But, they came to win and we had to play our A-game to beat them.
Make no mistake, this Downey kid is their best player and he is for real. His decisions in the game were outstanding and he had the hot hand throughout the game. I looked up late in the fourth and he had 30 points and only three assists.
But, the Gamecocks needed him to shoot. He alone brought them back and made it a nail biter at the end. He made two shots so deep behind the arc and falling back—just made you sick. These moves left all Gator fans just shaking their heads.
Great game though, Gators. Maybe we are not NIT bound after all. I am hoping that we take this right into Rupp Arena and stick it to them.