In a battle of undefeated SEC programs, Frank Martin’s club came out on top.
Sindarius Thornwell finished with 20 points and six boards and Chris Silva added 11 points as No. 24 South Carolina landed a come-from-behind, 57-53 win over No. 19 Florida in Columbia on Wednesday night. The Gamecocks were down by seven at the half, but they forced Florida to miss 14 of their first 15 second half field goals, erasing the deficit before the first TV timeout.
With the win, the Gamecocks remain undefeated in the SEC and just a half-game behind Kentucky atop the conference standings.
Here are four things we can take away from the game:
1. The gap between Kentucky and these two teams is significant: South Carolina and Florida are the two best teams in the SEC that don’t reside in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and it’s abundantly clear after Wednesday night that the difference between the Wildcats and these two teams is pretty large. I’ll fully admit that a major reason that I’m saying this is because of how ugly that game was to watch – more on that in a second – but I just don’t see anyway you could have watched that game and come away thinking that either of those two teams have the offensive firepower to hang with Kentucky.
2. This was an awful basketball game to watch, but this is how the Gamecocks are going to win: I’m not exaggerating when I say that was one of the worst basketball games that I’ve ever watched. It took nearly six minutes for either team to score. It wasn’t until the 12:30 mark that both teams had gotten onto the scoreboard. It took 145 minutes to finish this contest, in which there were 110 total points, 55 total fouls and zero flow to the game thanks to the refs, who went to a monitor review what felt like 25 times.
But this is how the Gamecocks are going to win games this year. There is nothing pretty about this iteration of Frank Martin basketball. South Carolina is currently ranked first in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric because they’re second nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage and third in defensive turnover percentage. They’re big, they’re old, they’re physical and they’re athletic, and given that they play for Martin, you know they’re going to play hard.
What they can’t do, however, is score. They’re 173rd in adjusted offensive efficiency. So when you have a team built around playing tough half court defense whose best offensive comes in the form of crashing the offensive glass, the games are never going to be all that aesthetically pleasing.
3. South Carolina is still undefeated with Sindarius Thornwell on the roster: This is something that is worth noting. While the Gamecocks do have losses to Memphis, Clemson and Seton Hall this season, all three of those losses came when Thornwell was serving his suspension for an offseason arrest. They went 7-0 before he was forced to sit out and have won five straight since he returned, including beating Syracuse, Michigan and all five of their SEC opponents, headlined by the Gators.
4. Florida badly needs some quality wins: While the gap between Kentucky and these two teams is enough that the SEC race shouldn’t be all that much of a race, I still think the Gators are pretty good this year. I like the way the press that Mike White has installed is working; it fits their personal perfectly.
And this was only the first conference loss for Florida, but the Gators still find themselves among a handful of teams that have the look and computer numbers of a tournament team without having put together the wins they need to back that up. The Gators have lost to the four best teams they’ve played this season – Gonzaga, Duke, Florida State and South Carolina – while their best win is either Seton Hall, Miami, Georgia or Arkansas. None of those teams are close to a lock for the NCAA tournament, and neither is anyone on their remaining schedule not named Kentucky or South Carolina.
The Gators still get UK twice. They host the Gamecocks in February. Winning both of those home games would do wonders for making UF feel more confident on Selection Sunday.