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Florida escapes South Carolina with win

©Associated Press
January 19, 2003

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Matt Bonner's outside shooting touch was a little off.

So Florida coach Billy Donovan knew what his senior should do with the game on the line.

Bonner took a bounce pass from Matt Walsh and converted a dunk with 35.3 seconds left as the No. 6 Gators won their 11th straight 77-75 against South Carolina.

"I'm just thankful Coach gave me some plays down low because I couldn't buy a jump shot," said Bonner, who led Florida with 19 points despite 7-of-16 shooting.

No doubt Bonner's most important inside play came with the score 72-72.

Only moments earlier, South Carolina's Kerbrell Brown missed an open follow from inches away after Chuck Eidson's long 3-point attempt.

Then the Gators quickly rushed downcourt, and Walsh fed a perfect pass with Bonner driving the lane for the basket.

"I was just glad I was able to handle that backdoor pass," Bonner said. "I just had to make something happen. Somehow, we were able to rely on our experience here."

Walsh had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, and Bonell Colas had a career-high 16 points off the bench. Brown and Tony Kitchings scored 22 for South Carolina, which lost its third in a row.

Even after Bonner's basket, Florida had to work to win its league-best 17th SEC road game in the past two seasons.

Walsh added two free throws to make it 76-72, but Carlos Powell made a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds to make it 76-75. Gator freshman Anthony Roberson made 1 of 2 free throws to give the Gamecocks a chance. But Powell lost control and only got off a desperation 3-pointer.

For most of this one, Florida looked like it would join the five other Top 10 teams that lost Saturday.

Donovan had those five defeats on the Gators board before the game and urged them to stay focused. The message took some time to sink in.

The Gators trailed 42-31 right before halftime, but Bonner began their comeback with a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left that sent them to the locker room down 44-37.

Bonner made a 3-pointer to start the second half then hit two free throws to bring Florida to 45-42.

Roberson's 3-pointer with 4:08 left gave Florida its first lead in more than 23 minutes at 68-67.

The teams traded the lead three more times after that. Howell's free throw with 2:03 left tied it for the final time and set up Bonner's winning basket.

Florida has won eight of its past nine against South Carolina and matched last season's 15-2 mark as the best start.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom said he was pleased with his team's effort but knew it missed an opportunity for a win.

"You've got to drive them into the ground and finish them," Odom said.

"Because they will not finish themselves."

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