As soon as Florida’s KeVaughn Allen swished his first three-point shot against South Carolina on Tuesday night, the sophomore breathed a sigh of relief.
His teammates did, too.
Allen kept making shots and was aggressive at the basket, scoring a game-high 26 points to lead No. 13 Florida to an 81-66 win over South Carolina in front of an O’Connell Center crowd of 11,051 for the team’s ninth straight win.
“It was a really big just to see the ball go in the hole,” Allen said. “I think it got me into a comfort zone throughout the game.”
The win also allowed the Gators (23-5, 13-3 SEC) to clinch a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament, meaning they earned a coveted double-bye in the five-day tournament.
Allen added a career-high seven rebounds in the win and made 13 of his 14 free throws en route to his third-straight double-digit scoring game and seventh in the past 10 games.
“I think certain guys on certain teams have that effect on their team,” UF coach Mike White said. “KeVaughn certainly has that effect on our team.”
Junior Devin Robinson added 14 points and point guards Chris Chiozza (12 points) and Kasey Hill (10 points) also posted double-digits for the Gators, who shot 49 percent from the field and made nine three-pointers after missing all 17 of their shots from beyond the arc in the first meeting with South Carolina back on Jan. 18.
Florida led by as many as 12 points in the first half while South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell was on the bench with a couple of fouls. When Thornwell checked back into the game with about five-and-a-half minutes left to play, the Gamecocks (20-8, 10-5 SEC) went on a 17-2 run to take a 33-30 lead before Chris Chiozza sank a 3-pointer and Allen closed the half with a dunk to put UF up 35-33 at the break. Florida turned the ball over 12 times in the first half.
“We had some foolish [turnovers] in the first half,” White said. “You have to credit [South Carolina]. That’s what they do. They speed you up. They play as hard as anyone in college basketball.”
South Carolina kept the game to single digits early in the second half and trimmed the Gators’ lead to as few as three points, 49-46, with about 13 minutes left to play. Florida then made nine of its next 13 shots — including five 3s — to pull away for good.
“You can’t break down when you’re playing a team like Florida,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “You can’t.”
Thornwell scored a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds for South Carolina, which has now lost four of its past five.
Florida caps off arguably its toughest week in conference play on Saturday when it travels to face No. 11 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. A win over the Wildcats would put Florida in the driver’s seat for the SEC regular-season title with two games left to play.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Graduate transfer Canyon Barry, who sat out practice the last two days with an ankle injury, went scoreless in his nine minutes of action on Tuesday.
▪ The Gators have now won eight of their conference games by by at least 10 points, which is the most in the SEC.