Scottie Wilbekin sprains ankle but Gators top South Carolina

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) tries to get past South Carolina guard Tyrone Johnson (4) during the first half.

Phil Sandlin/AP

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Scottie Wilbekin grimaced in pain as he got helped off the court.

Coach Billy Donovan had a similar expression on his face — but not just because of his starting point guard’s injury.

Wilbekin scored 17 points before spraining his right ankle and No. 10 Florida opened Southeastern Conference play with a 74-58 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Donovan criticized Wilbekin for driving the lane and taking a wild shot, something the coach has cautioned the senior about repeatedly this season.

"He was driving in the lane out of control. He’s just got to do a better job," Donovan said, adding that Wilbekin will be questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas.

Casey Prather and Patric Young added 13 points apiece for the Gators (12-2, 1-0), who won their sixth straight and tied a school record by winning their 24th consecutive home game.

"I don’t know how many games we have left at home, but we would love to finish it out undefeated," Young said.

A fast start and strong finish were keys to the latest victory in the O’Connell Center.

Florida made six of its first seven shots and led 14-1 before the players barely broke a sweat. The Gamecocks (7-7, 0-1) went more than 9 minutes without a basket and trailed 16-4 before Mindaugas Kacinas’ jumper.

"The young kids were tight and nervous," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "My biggest concern going into this game was that first 5 to 6 minutes. Exactly what I was hoping didn’t happen, happened."

Things got worse for South Carolina, too. The Gamecocks had as many turnovers (12) as field goal attempts with 6 minutes to play in the first half and were down 18.

Martin’s team woke up in the second half, cutting the lead to 40-32 on Michael Carrera’s jumper.

"I don’t know what it is, but we have a very, very hard time sustaining intensity," Donovan said.

The Gators, though, responded with a flurry of baskets. Prather converted a three-point play, Wilbekin sank a deep 3-pointer and Young hit a hook shot in the paint. Prather found Dorian Finney-Smith on the scoring end of an alley-oop that made it 52-37.

A few minutes later, Michael Frazier II and Wilbekin hit treys that pushed the lead back to 18, 60-42.

Florida coasted from there, winning for the 11th time in 12 games. The only loss was a buzzer-beater at then-No. 12 Connecticut.

Afterward, though, much of the talk was about Wilbekin.

Wilbekin badly sprained the same ankle Dec. 2 against Connecticut. He didn’t miss any games, but he had more than a week off to heal.

"It’s going to be kind of difficult without him," Prather said. "But we have great guys on the team, great players, so I feel like whatever adversity we get, we’ll be fine."

Wilbekin entered the game averaging 11.8 points and 4.0 assists.

He was driving up for a layup with about 2:40 to play — Donovan still had most of his starters on the floor — and came down awkwardly on his right foot. Trainers carried him off the floor and to the locker room for X-rays.

Donovan immediately pulled the rest of his starters.

"It had nothing to do with him being in the game," Donovan said. "It had much, much more to do with him listening. One of things we’ve talked a lot about is him constantly going down the lane off of one leg. He never really makes that shot."

Donovan was equally upset with his team’s second-half effort on defense.

South Carolina shot 54.5 percent after the break. Tyrone Johnson led the Gamecocks with 12 points. Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams chipped in 10 points each.

They needed much more to win in the O’Dome.

The Gators haven’t lost at home since March 4, 2012, against Kentucky. The previous 24-game, home-winning streak came between March 2006 and November 2007. Two-time defending national champions Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah did most of the heavy lifting in that one.

Florida’s four seniors — Wilbekin, Prather, Young and Will Yeguete — can take credit for a big chunk of this one.

Only Stephen F. Austin (26) and Duke (25) have longer home-winning streaks than Florida. Georgia ended Missouri’s 26-game, home-winning streak Wednesday night.

Florida can break its school record Tuesday against the Bulldogs.

"It’s kind of cool," Prather said. "We’ve just got to stay focused and stay grounded and keep going. We’ve got more games on our schedule, so we’ve got to keep pushing."