COLUMBIA, S.C. — With a chance to move closer to their first NCAA Tournament berth in three years, the Gators instead took a big step back.
Florida struggled from the free-throw line, committed costly turnovers and blew a lead it held for most of the game in a 77-71 loss to South Carolina on Wednesday night.
"We just gave the game away," said point guard Erving Walker, who led the Gators (17-7, 6-4 SEC) with 20 points. "It was just a lack of focus, which is a concern considering what's at stake."
Florida, which went into the game second in the SEC in free-throw shooting at 71.1 percent, made 10-of-23. The Gators also had 20 turnovers that resulted in 20 South Carolina points.
"I really thought, in a lot of ways, the game was let down on the free-throw line," coach Billy Donovan said.
Devan Downey, who rolled his left ankle in practice this week, scored 24 for the Gamecocks (14-9, 5-4), off his nearly 31-point average in league games. But Brandis Raley-Ross had 20 and Sam Muldrow 16 as South Carolina had three players in double figures for the first time in six games.
"I definitely wasn't 100" percent, Downey said. "But my team carried me."
"When Downey gets his 30 and no one else scores in double figures, they are almost an easier team to guard," Donovan said. "I thought tonight, he did a much better job staying patient and getting others involved."
Florida led most of the way but hit just one field goal in a six-minute span late in the second half as South Carolina turned a tie at 53 into a 67-57 lead.
The Gamecocks made 10 of 12 free throws in the final minute to beat Florida for the second time in the past nine games and the fifth time in the past 11 years.
Alex Tyus added 11 points and 15 rebounds and Chandler Parsons had 13 points and 11 rebounds for Florida.