Gators fall to Gamecocks in OT thriller
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Michael Carrera is confident the darkest days are behind South Carolina. He’s glad he’s had the chance to make that happen.
Carrera had 20 points including the go-ahead foul shots in overtime to lead the Gamecocks to a 73-69 victory over Florida on Saturday.
“Everybody had bad days, everybody has good days,” Carrera said. “Now, I think we’re getting on track for the good days. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
With Carrera, the Gamecocks (22-5, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) have plenty. He had 15 rebounds for his ninth double-double this season, adding three steals and three blocks as South Carolina ended Florida’s seven-game series win streak.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said Carrera, the 6-foot-5 senior with ridiculously long arms, has never before been a team’s centerpiece performer. But Carrera’s grit, hustle and ability to shake off criticism and fire back on all cylinders has him fueling the team’s best run in a decade.
“This is a new chapter in his career,” Martin said. “And for going through it the first time, he’s doing pretty darn well.”
As is South Carolina which overcame a game of wild swings — it lead 30-13 early, trailed 39-32 in the second half and 69-68 in overtime — to emerge with its most victories since the 2005-06 team went 23-15.
And it was Carrera’s free throws with 1:36 to go in overtime that gave the Gamecocks the lead for good, 70-69.
Florida, trailing 72-69, had a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds, but Chris Chiozza missed a 3-pointer.
Gators coach Mike White said he hoped to spring Dorian Finney-Smith for a 3, but South Carolina’s defense forced a long outside shot. “We let up,” White said. “Let a huge opportunity slip away.”
Sindarius Thornwell added 17 points for South Carolina.
Finney-Smith had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Gators.
The Florida senior had a chance to end things in regulation, but missed a foul shot that left the game tied with 20 seconds remaining.
Laimonas Chatkevicius had 13 points, four of those in the extra period, for the Gamecocks.
Thornwell put South Carolina ahead 43-42 with 11:08 left and set up a back-and-forth contest down the stretch. There were 11 lead changes the rest of the way until Carrera’s go-ahead foul shots in overtime.
Florida and South Carolina entered looking to stay in the hunt near the top of the SEC, both teams tied with Texas A&M in third place.
And it was the Gamecocks, coming off two straight defeats for the first time all season, who got off to the best start and built a 30-13 lead on Marcus Stroman’s driving layup with 7:13 left in the half.
That’s when the Gators caught fire, using a 20-0 run to head to the locker room up 33-30.
Florida: Dorian Finney-Smith has five games this season with 20 or more points and eight or more rebounds. That’s the most for the Gators since Marreese Speights had seven such games in 2007-08.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks 20-win turnaround season has been fueled by rebounds. They lead the SEC in offensive rebounds at more than 14 a game. However, they only won the battle of the offensive boards once in the past three games — and that came last Saturday in an 89-62 loss to Kentucky.
South Carolina’s win over Florida was fueled by its upperclass core of seniors Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas, plus juniors Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice. The five played 196 of a possible 225 minutes and scored all but four of the Gamecocks points. “Those core guys, they stood up tall today,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
The families of seniors Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas, both from Lithuania, are in town the next two weeks to watch their sons play basketball. For Chatkevicius, it was his first start since late January after coming off the bench the past six games. “It was great being in the starting lineup. It feels good to play in front of my mom for the first time,” Chatkevicius said. “And it’s even better that we won.”
Florida returns home to play Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
South Carolina is home against Tennessee on Wednesday.