The crowd at Colonial Life Arena was already at full volume on Saturday night when the South Carolina football team came out to be honored for its first-ever 11-win season.
The basketball team, which has scuffled for success this season, took a late 41-40 first-half lead on No. 19 Florida with three starters on the bench with foul trouble. The surge was fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from the teams third-string point guard, Brenton Williams, whom the Gators had not even scouted.
But after football coach Steve Spurrier left the court with his players and trophies, the hot-firing Gamecocks could not get started in the second half. South Carolina shot 1-for-13 in the first 11 minutes of the half and went eight minutes without scoring. Florida outscored USC 19-3 in that span for a lead the Gators would not relinquish.
Florida (14-4, 2-1) won 79-65 for its first road victory of the season. The Gamecocks (8-9, 0-3) opened the SEC season with three consecutive losses for the first time in five years.
The challenge is that at some point you would like to see one go in the win column, coach Darrin Horn said. I dont think theres any question that ultimately that affects a team. We have to do the best job we can in getting better and keep fighting our way through that.
USC came out with its best first half of the season after scoring 30 first-half points and shooting 22 percent in their first two SEC games. In an energetic period during which the team pushed the tempo at times, South Carolina shot a season-high 62.5 percent in the first half versus Florida, while scoring 40 or more points for the third time this season.
In a sign that perhaps luck was turning USCs way, the Gamecocks took the lead on a Brian Richardson jumper with 2½ minutes left that bounced on the rim three times.
But for a second game in a row, South Carolina was slow to start in the second half. USC gave up a 10-3 run to Vanderbilt, putting that contest out of reach on Tuesday.
After the scoring drought versus Florida that was caused by forced shots and turnovers, the Gamecocks managed 24 points and shot 26 percent in the second half. USC had averaged 45 points on 58 percent shooting in the second halves of its first two conference games.
So far in league play, our team has been a tale of two halves, Horn said.
The team showed some progress from earlier losses. Horn said the team did not get as frustrated during the scoring drought versus Florida as it did against Vanderbilt, still, when the ball is not going in for a long period of time, its hard to stay at a high level defensively.
Its difficult when youre playing a team thats so skilled and shoots the ball so well, Horn said of Florida, which shot 53 percent and made 12 three-pointers.
Bruce Ellington, getting his first start of the year after missing the start of the season playing football, led the Gamecocks with 17 points. Malik Cooke added 10 points and seven rebounds, but the teams leading scorer managed two points in the second half.
Florida had six players in double figures, led by Kenny Boyntons 15 points.
The Gamecocks will have a week to work on some of its problems before traveling to Auburn next Saturday.
We have to get better defensively, and offensively build on some of the progress we did see tonight, Horn said, and address the issues within our control, not just shots not going in, but execution and turning the ball over.
To help with scoring, Ellington said the team needs to do a better job of moving the ball around and screening players rather than standing around.
Yeguete 6-6 2-4 14, Murphy 3-7 4-4 11, Boynton 5-13 1-2 15, Walker 3-5 2-2 11, Beal 3-7 6-7 14, Rosario 3-6 2-2 10, Young 2-2 0-0 4, Wilbekin 0-1 0-0 0, Prather 0-0 0-0 0, Larson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 17-21 79.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-9)
Gill 2-5 3-4 8, Cooke 4-10 2-3 10, Harris 3-3 3-4 9, Richardson 3-8 0-0 7, Ellington 6-14 1-2 17, Williams 3-8 0-0 9, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Leonard 0-1 0-0 0, Slawson 2-4 1-1 5, Geathers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-55 10-14 65.
Halftime: South Carolina 41-40. 3-Point Goals: Florida 12-24 (Boynton 4-7, Walker 3-4, Rosario 2-4, Beal 2-5, Murphy 1-3, Wilbekin 0-1), South Carolina 9-24 (Ellington 4-6, Williams 3-7, Richardson 1-4, Gill 1-4, Slawson 0-1, Cooke 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Florida 25 (Yeguete 8), South Carolina 30 (Cooke 7). Assists_Florida 19 (Walker 7), South Carolina 7 (Ellington 3). Total Fouls_Florida 17, South Carolina 22. Attendance: 11,308.