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Jan. 13, 2007

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – With “Humpty” on target, Florida is tough to beat.

Lee Humphrey set career highs with 27 points and seven 3-pointers, and the second-ranked Gators won their ninth straight game by beating South Carolina 84-50 on Saturday.

Nicknamed “Humpty” by his teammates, Humphrey got Florida (16-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) going as he made five 3s before the game was eight minutes old.

“Humpty set the tone,” Joakim Noah said. “When Humpty hits the shot to start the game, there’s nothing better than that.”

Humphrey hit a lot more shots than that and sent the Gators into a weeklong break on a positive note.

“I felt good today,” he said, smiling. “Our guys did a good job finding me when I’m open. They’re fun to play with.”

With the win, the Gators put away their biggest nemesis from their 2006 national championship season. The Gamecocks (10-5, 0-2) swept both regular-season meetings a season ago, then took Florida to the buzzer before losing the SEC tournament final, 49-47.

But this one was the most lopsided loss in coach Dave Odom’s six seasons at South Carolina.

“We knew coming in that they were tough. They’ve always played us tough ever since I’ve been here,” Humphrey said. “They almost beat us three times last year so we knew we’d have to play well to win.”

Florida and Humphrey had few of the same problems in this one.

When the Gamecocks chose to pack the middle to contain Noah and Al Horford, Humphrey made them pay from the outside – almost all the shots without a defender in his face.

“I was a little bit surprised they stayed in the zone as long as they did,” Humphrey said. “Guess they felt like that would be a good defense to play against us and our guys did a good job taking advantage.”

The Gators made 11 of their first 13 shots on the way to a 30-16 lead.

After the Gamecocks rallied behind Tre Kelley’s 20 first-half points to trail 37-33, Florida took control with a 27-7 run over the first 12 minutes of the second half.

“I didn’t finish like I did in the first half,” Kelley said. “I missed a couple of layups and jump shots. It wasn’t that I was running out of gas or anything. I just didn’t finish.”

Humphrey, who finished 10-of-12 from the field, surpassed his career high for 3s, set in the Final Four against George Mason last spring. His points bested the 25 he had against Arkansas in the SEC tournament last March.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said the Gators needed Humphrey to knock down those shots to loosen up South Carolina’s defense.

“They were trying to protect their interior,” Donovan said. “Lee stepped up and made them.”

Horford added 14 points and 11 rebounds while Noah finished with 13 points.

Taurean Green, who entered as Florida’s leading scorer, was held to 10 points.

South Carolina has lost three straight, including two to top-10 teams. Last Sunday, the Gamecocks were beaten 70-54 by No. 6 Kansas.

Kelley had 24 points and was the only Gamecock in double figures.

“Second half, we wanted to try and wear him down a little bit, make him work and maybe he wouldn’t be as effective in the halfcourt,” Humphrey said. “I think it worked.”

Florida, led by Humphrey, went 16-of-24 from the floor in the first half. Kelley pulled the Gamecocks back into the game, scoring 12 during the Gamecocks’ 17-7 run that drew them to 37-33 with 1:44 to go before the break.

The Gators followed with two inside baskets by Horford down the stretch, including a power jam with 2 seconds left that sent them into halftime up 41-33.

After the break, the Gators tightened their defense on Kelley and the Gamecocks. The South Carolina senior was held to a pair of foul shots and one basket over the final 20 minutes. The Gamecocks went nearly 5 minutes without scoring.

South Carolina shot 59.1 percent in the opening half. That fell to 20 percent (5-of-25) in the second half.

“You can’t stay in any game, let alone one like this, without making shots better than that,” Odom said.