GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A precision pass the length of the court. A grown-man seal against two defenders. A dunk that stunned the home crowd and sent the South Carolina bench into a frenzy.
It was a final play executed to perfection.
Chris Silva’s slam following a full-court pass from Felipe Haase with 2.5 seconds remaining gave South Carolina a 71-69 victory over Florida in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday night.
“We’ve never scored over the top the way we did today,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said.
Silva walled off Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes and Keyontae Johnson before catching a 90-foot pass from Haase, who checked into the game only because Maik Kotsar told Martin his shoulder hurt too much to make the pass. It was an unlikely completion that handed Florida and coach Mike White one of their most gut-wrenching losses in four seasons.
“A lot had to go right for them and it did,” White said. “The pass was unbelievable.”
White said one of his players failed to defend the inbound pass, giving Haase a clear line of sight to Silva. White said two players also looked lost on the defensive call, which was a man-to-man press instead of zone.
“We were looking at the scoreboard, waiting for the clock to run out,” White said.
Silva finished with 18 points — all in the second half — and helped the Gamecocks (6-7, 1-0) overcome several double-digits deficits, including a 14-point hole in the second half. His final dunk, though, had to be one of the best of his career.
The Gators (8-5, 0-1) failed to make a basket in the final 7:17, missing 11 of their last 12 shots and eight straight to end the game. South Carolina kept changing defenses, making it difficult for Florida to find a rhythm.
Hassani Gravett led the Gamecocks with 22 points. Silva made 5 of 6 shots and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
The game looked like it would go to overtime after Hayes hit a free throw with 3.5 seconds remaining that made it 69-all. But then Haase-to-Silva happened, securing a spot in South Carolina’s basketball lore forever.
Keyshawn Bryant had a lot to do with getting the Gamecocks in position for the game-winner. Bryant made three consecutive buckets late in the second half, helping South Carolina dig out of a 10-point hole with about 8 minutes to play. Bryant had a steal and a dunk, a layup and a jumper to cap a 9-0 run that tied the game at 65.
South Carolina took its first lead since scoring the first point of the game on Silva’s dunk with 3:39 remaining.
Florida never really recovered.
Noah Locke led the Gators with 17 points. KeVaughn Allen and Andrew Nembhard added 10 apiece.
“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Locke said. “Me playing, I’ve seen some game-winners, but I’ve never really seen anything in that way.”
South Carolina: Silva scored in double figures for the sixth consecutive game, but he needs more help on the offensive end if the Gamecocks are going to be contenders in the SEC.
Florida: The Gators allowed an opponent to reach 70 points for the first time since giving up 81 points to Florida State in the opener. Florida entered the day sixth in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings and should drop after allowing the Gamecocks 71 points and 39 percent shooting.
“I’m not stunned. I’m disappointed,” White said. “Our defensive effort was not the same as it’s been.”
South Carolina begins a two-game homestand against Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Florida plays at Arkansas on Wednesday night.
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