Jan 7, 2004
By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. – David Lee can’t stand missing shots. Over Florida’s past few games, he hasn’t had to worry about that.
Lee kept up his stretch of hot shooting and scored 21 points to lead the 14th-ranked Gators to a 65-62 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Lee, who had 14 rebounds, was 8-of-12 from the field, making him 29-of-35 in the past four games for the Gators (10-2). He came up big on a night when Anthony Roberson was held to five points – nearly 12 below his team-leading average – on 1-of-5 shooting.
Lee doesn’t like to get too excited about his performance.
“I try and stay humble and just stay focused,” he said. “You never know when a Maryland game is going to happen when I’m 1-of-12.”
The way Lee’s shooting now, that’s not likely.
Even when he expects to miss, the ball finds its way through the net. Lee’s spinning heave about 4 feet from the basket with 4:50 left broke a 57-all tie and put the Gators ahead for good. Lee said he bumped a South Carolina player on the way up and prepared to chase down the miss.
“It was a little bit of a luck shot there,” Lee said, smiling.
Renaldo Balkman’s driving layup with 39 seconds left got the Gamecocks (13-2) within 63-62.
But Roberson hit two free throws with 18 seconds to go and South Carolina missed two tries at tying the game.
Josh Gonner front-rimmed a fade-away 3-pointer with 8 seconds left and Michael Boynton also missed a 3 and Florida hung on for its fifth straight victory overall and sixth in a row over the Gamecocks.
Tarence Kinsey shoots in the first half in front of Florida’s Matt Walsh.
Gonner led the Gamecocks with 18 points.
Christian Drejer had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Florida.
Despite Florida’s fifth straight victory since losing consecutive games to Maryland and Louisville last month, coach Billy Donovan was not happy with his team’s play.
“I just thought our guys were a step slow and a step late,” he said.
It surely didn’t help when Roberson picked up offensive fouls the first two times he touched the ball and sat for the final 16 minutes of the half. The Gators shot only 10-of-29 from the field and committed 12 turnovers in the first half as they trailed 29-27.
“We talked about that all year long,” Lee said. “We have plenty of good guys who can keep us in the game. And that’s going to be very important coming down the stretch.”
Roberson’s return seemed to settle the Gators, who started the second half with a 20-8 run to go up 47-37 with 12:19 left. But South Carolina, in front of a crowd of 15,042 – the third largest at its 15-month-old facility – answered with a 16-5 run. When Gonner drove the left baseline for a layup with 7:35 to go, the Gamecocks led 53-52.
The game was tied at 57 when Lee picked up a missed shot by Drejer and threw up his “luck shot” and the Gators didn’t trail again.
South Carolina closed to 61-60 on Gonner’s fourth and final 3-pointer. Drejer followed with an inside shot to extend Florida’s lead.
The Gamecocks finished 5-of-29 from behind the arc.
“We didn’t execute when it was win time,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.
The Gamecocks have been criticized for building a gaudy record against in-state mid-major opponents. Odom says at least for one night, his team showed it could play with the SEC’s best.
“Tonight we were worthy,” he said. “That’s all it says.”
In the end, Lee proved too much inside.
Donovan says Lee’s success comes from knowing what shots he can make and when he should pass outside to Florida’s shooters. Lee’s not sure what’s the reason is, only that he’d like to keep it going.
“As I’m getting more opportunities I’m becoming more and more comfortable scoring,” he said.