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Florida Begins to Dig Itself Out of 0-3 SEC Hole with 71-63 Win Over Gamecocks

The Florida Gators skid to begin SEC play ends as they topple South Carolina on the road to claim their first victory in conference play.

At zero wins and three losses, the Florida Gators had fallen drastically behind the competition in a talent-riddled Southeastern Conference to begin league play in the 2021-22 season.

Traveling into enemy territory to face a Frank Martin-led team that has dominated the matchup as of late, the Gators walked in with their backs against the wall in a must-win contest to keep them alive. Bursting out of the gates to a sizeable lead in the first half of play, led by a 9-0 run to turn what was a 12-10 edge into a 21-10 advantage, Florida would produce one of their best first-half performances since November.

Despite multiple attempts from South Carolina to surge back in the second half, the Gators – who have notably struggled to close out games under Mike White – stood their ground to seize their first conference victory of the season, 71-63.

Kowacie Reeves proved to be a solid piece to the puzzle on Saturday. The freshman, who received his second career start for the orange and blue, posted a career-high 14 points and made a crucial save of Phlandrous Fleming Jr.'s missed floater attempt with the time winding down.

However, despite his game highlighted by his ability to score on the offensive end, Reeves' said that he believes his determination to grow as a defender since arriving in Gainesville has been the difference-maker for his increased role.

On top of Reeve's excellence, Fleming tied the freshman for the team lead in points with 14, while Tyree Appleby operated well as a facilitator with six assists. Averaging just under 13 assists as a team on the year, the emphasis on meaningful ball movement was evident in Florida's gameplan, accounting for 10 in the first half and 17 total.

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Meanwhile, Colin Castleton returned to his early-season season form as a rim protector, tallying eight blocks to pair his best overall performance against LSU with a second-consecutive game of near perfection.

As a result, Florida rediscovered its identity on the floor in Columbia. That was something White believed the team had lost due to the inability to value the basketball since their 6-0 start to the season.

"It's just been a tough year valuing the basketball," White said postgame. "Through the first six games, we were elite defensively," but the carelessness in ball movement led to a steep dropoff in other parts of the game. That was especially evident in their defensive identity.

"A lot of those things I thought we were doing early when we had success, I saw today," White said. 

The Gators will look to continue their mission to rekindle their identity as a suffocating and active defensive against Mississippi State at home on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

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