No. 17 Florida Routs South Carolina
Erving Walker scored 25 points and Florida (19-5, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot 55.4 percent -- its best showing in 21 games -- in a 79-60 victory Wednesday night.
"When we're making shots like that, we're tough to beat," Florida's Chandler Parsons said. "We just want to keep playing unselfish, keep playing the way we are."
And that's at an extremely high level.
Vernon Macklin score 16 points and Chandler, with 14 points and 12 rebounds, finished two assists shy of a triple double with a career-best eight.
Florida has won five of six since losing to the Gamecocks (13-9, 4-5) at the O'Connell Center on Jan. 15 to take control of the SEC Eastern Division. The Gators are three victories up on their nearest rivals (Georgia and Kentucky are tied at 5-4 and don't play until Saturday) and look like they're peaking at the perfect time.
"We're learning," said Walker, two points short of his career best. "Even though we're an older team, we're still learning."
That fits right into coach Billy Donovan's plans. He was pleased that his team showed the focus and poise to bounce back from a big week -- the Gators entered after beating ranked teams in Kentucky and Vanderbilt -- and not repeat the mistakes of its last meeting with the Gamecocks.
"Our guys came here with an understanding of a team that beat us on our home court. They came in with a lot of respect," said Donovan, who earned his 350th victory as Florida coach.
Walker, Macklin and Parsons hit about every shot they took. The trio shot 20 of 28, many of them off wide open looks.
Florida established Macklin, its 6-foot-10 senior, underneath in the first half as he made all six of his shots and had 14 points the first 20 minutes.
That opened things up for Walker, Parsons and the rest of the Gators from the outside.
Walker was 7 of 9, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Parsons was 6-of-10 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers.
Florida kept the pressure on the Gamecocks, too, forcing 18 turnovers and getting seven steals.
Bruce Ellington had 14 points to lead South Carolina, which has lost four of its last five.
"Some shots did not go down, there were some mistakes we made and they took advantage of it," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "That's what good, veteran teams do."
Parsons had his third consecutive game with double figure points and rebounds. It was his sixth straight contest with 10 rebounds or more.
The Gators were in control from the start at the Colonial Life Arena, where they hadn't won in three years.
Florida ran out to a 9-0 lead as the Gamecocks missed their first eight shots.
Each time South Carolina cut into the margin, the Gators had an answer. When Sam Muldrow's basket brought the Gamecocks to 13-11, Florida followed with seven consecutive points capped by Boynton's long 3-pointer.
South Carolina rallied to 30-24 on a 3-pointer by reserve R.J. Slawson with 3:25 left in the half. But the Gators put together a dominant closing run to take a 38-27 lead at the break.
The Gators did just about anything they wanted in the opening half, shooting better than 60 percent (17 of 28).
Macklin was unstoppable inside as he hit all of his shots for 14 first-half points.
Florida's touch continued after the break as they made six straight shots during one point to lead 53-35 with 14:03 left.
While the Gators thrived, South Carolina struggled. Take away Ellington's 5-of-10 performance from the field and the rest of the Gamecocks finished 6 of 18.
Maybe South Carolina's Horn could've called on star running back Marcus Lattimore, who attended the game and knows about scoring on the Gators. Lattimore ran for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 36-14 win at Florida last November.
These basketball Gators hope they're making some special memories of their own over the next few weeks.
"We're a long way from that," Walker said. "But we're getting better every day."
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