COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Florida coach Billy Donovan thinks his team has plenty of things to improve on as the visitors, despite the 19th-ranked Gators’ first true road win of the season.
Kenny Boynton had 15 points and hit four of Florida’s 12 3-pointers in a 79-65 victory over South Carolina on Saturday night.
The Gators (14-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have won while away from the O’Connell Center this season, but they’d lost their first four games on an opponent’s home court with setbacks against Ohio State, Syracuse, Rutgers and in their SEC opener at Tennessee.
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“This was a positive step,” Donovan said. “But I’d be the first one to say I don’t think our guys have anything figured out on the road.”
They certainly figured out South Carolina (8-9, 0-3).
The Gators finished 12 of 24 on 3s and 25 of 47 (53.2 percent) shooting overall, and had 19 assists and just 10 turnovers in front of a large, loud crowd shouting them down on nearly every possession at Colonial Life Arena.
Not even beloved Gators football great Steve Spurrier — here for a halftime celebration of the Gamecocks season — could slow down Florida, which had six players reach double-figures in scoring.
“This means a lot,” Boynton said. “We feel like it’s a new season, SEC play. Now we’re one and one on the road and we just have to keep it going.”
Florida will if it keeps playing like this. Will Yeguete and Bradley Beal had 14 points each, Erik Murphy and Erving Walker 11 apiece, and Mike Rosario added 10. Yeguete went 6 of 6 from the field and added a team-high eight rebounds.
“Florida’s a really difficult matchup,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. “That being said, we’ve got to get better defensively. We can’t continue to allow teams to shoot over 50 percent.”
Bruce Ellington had 17 points to lead the Gamecocks (8-9, 0-3), who opened league play with three consecutive losses for the first time in Horn’s four seasons.
Florida took charge with a fast start coming out of the break and held the Gamecocks scoreless for more than 8 minutes.
Boynton started things with his fourth 3-pointer and Beal followed with another long distance shot as the Gators moved in front 48-44. Rosario had a breakaway dunk after a steal, which followed an embarrassing play where he passed to Yeguete, who was waiting on the sidelines to enter the game. Rosario’s teammates laughed and smiled before Beal added another 3-pointer.
By the time Beal hit two foul shots, the Gators led 59-44 — and South Carolina could get no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Donovan acknowledged that South Carolina’s poor shooting touch — the Gamecocks were 1 of 13 to start the second half — was as big a factor as Florida’s defense.
“That allowed us to get out on the break and have more offensive possessions, extend our lead and push it out,” he said.
South Carolina figured it would struggle against Florida’s conference-best outside shooting. No one in the SEC had made more 3-pointers than the Gators have put up so far, and the Gamecocks had already been stung for 13 3-pointers in a 67-57 home loss to Vanderbilt last Tuesday night.
Florida came out firing, with Walker and Rosario making two 3-pointers each and Boynton adding another for a 26-18 lead halfway through the opening period.
The Gamecocks, though, began to find their range from behind the arc, too. Ellington hits a pair of 3s and freshman Brenton Williams hit two from well behind the line to give the Gamecocks a 41-40 lead at the break.
Neither team could stop the other: Florida finished 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) from the field, while South Carolina topped them at 15 of 25 (60 percent.).
Ellington, South Carolina’s two-sport standout, got his first start since the football season ended. Ellington started fast, going 3 for 4 before getting pulled with two fouls.
Still, the biggest cheers came at halftime when Spurrier and his record-setting, 11-win football team were celebrated by the crowd. Spurrier, who had knee replacement surgery last week, came out with a cane and promised that while he looked gimpy now, “I’ll run out on the field with this team next year.”
Spurrier won a national championship coaching at Florida — his alma mater. He introduced several players, including quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Devin Taylor, and reminded the crowd that South Carolina still hadn’t reached its goal of an SEC championship.
“When we come out of Atlanta hugging and high-fiving, that’s when you know we hit the Promised Land,” Spurrier said.