South Carolina gave Florida all it could handle Tuesday night but the Gators hit big shot after big shot down the stretch and left Colonial Life Arena with a 81-68 win.
The Gamecocks fell to 8-6 on the season, 0-1 in the SEC. Florida improved to 10-4, 2-0.
Maik Kotsar had a double-double for South Carolina with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Keyshawn Bryant added 14 points for South Carolina while A.J. Lawson and Jair Bolden had 12 each.
After a hot start, South Carolina shot just 38.3 percent from the field to 46.7 percent for Florida. The Gamecocks were just 4-of-15 from 3-point range. The Gators out-rebounded Carolina 42-30 and had 10 points off 12 offensive rebounds.
“We played with a lot more spirit today and a lot more consistent with the way we try to do things but we just got out-toughed," head coach Frank Martin said. "Offensive rebounding was a big thing in this game."
South Carolina trailed by three at the half but Bryant scored seven points in the first four minutes of the second and the Gamecocks cut the lead to 54-53 when Bryant assisted on a layup by Kotsar.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to one twice late in the game but committed five turnovers to allow Florida to stretch the lead back out. Martin called that stretch "deflating." The Gamecocks had 14 turnovers.
South Carolina cut the gap to 61-58 on a floater by T.J. Moss and a free throw by Lawson with eight minutes remaining, but the Gators responded with an 8-2 run to take a 69-60 lead with five minutes left.
The Gamecocks trailed by six with a little more than two minutes remaining but Florida's Andrew Nembhard hit a 3 to push the lead to 77-68. The Florida point guard had a game-high 21 points.
Martin said his team had trouble controlling Florida's guards and swing players. The Gators had four players in double-figures.
“Our ball-screen defense was not good and they made more shots than we did," Martin said.
Florida led 40-37 at the end of a back-and-forth first half that featured two ties and seven lead changes. South Carolina started strong and led 20-16 on Kotsar's second three-point play of the half.
But Florida tied and it took a 23-22 lead on a 3 by Scottie Lewis. South Carolina regained the lead 28-27 on two free throws by Kotsar but Florida responded with a 13-5 run to take a 40-33 lead.
The Gamecocks got a late spark and two baskets by freshman Trae Hannibal — including a spectacular steal and driving layup — to close the gap to three at the half.
Florida shot 50 percent in the first half to 39.3 for South Carolina. The Gators out-rebounded the Gamecocks 20-12.
Kotsar, a 6-11 senior, had his best scoring game of the season but South Carolina struggled from long range, hitting just 26.7 percent from 3.
“We just can’t score at the rim. We are a one-man band at the rim and that’s with Maik Kotsar, and that’s not his strength," Martin said. "When you don’t score at the rim you have to make jump shots and we didn’t make enough jump shots."