- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Sindarius Thornwell waited to play a game like this his entire career. The South Carolina senior wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by.

Thornwell scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half as the 24th-ranked Gamecocks’ defense smothered high-scoring No. 19 Florida much of the way for a 57-53 victory Wednesday night.

The Gamecocks (15-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) opened the second half with a 14-2 run and held on down the stretch when the Gators (15-4, 5-1) drew within 54-53 on Chris Chiozza’s shot with 40.3 seconds to go. PJ Dozier drove for South Carolina’s final basket and Florida fumbled it out of bounds on its next possession.

When it was over, Thornwell hugged his teammates after South Carolina’s third Top 25 win of the season.

“Before the game, I was saying these are the games you prepare for in your backyard growing up,” Thornwell said.

Thornwell, who missed six games before SEC play with an athletic department suspension, has led the Gamecocks to five straight victories since his return - and the program’s best start in league play since the 1996-97 team opened 11-0.

“What can you say about Sin,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “He’s a winner.”

Florida’s leading scorer, KeVaughn Allen, had one point while Kasey Hill scored all 11 of his in the opening half before fouling out. Canyon Barry led the Gators with 13 points.

Florida went 0 of 17 from 3-point range, ending a streak of 850 consecutive games with a long-range basket that was the longest in the NCAA. The Gators last went 0-from-behind the arc in an 80-61 loss to Kentucky in 1992.

They didn’t do much better from 2, making only seven field goals in the second half and getting held to their fewest points of the season - 26 less than their average coming in.

“It’s discouraging on the one night where you have a chance,” Florida coach Mike White said.

Chris Silva had 11 points and Dozier 10 for the Gamecocks.

THE BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators came in scoring 79 points a game, 20 more than South Carolina’s SEC-leading defensive average. But Florida seemed to wear down the Gamecocks’ end to end defense as the game continued. Hill led the way, driving to the basket every chance he got and scoring 11 points in the opening half. Hill will have to keep that up all season if the Gators hope to take down SEC powerhouse Kentucky.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks continue to struggle with turnovers. They had 20 or more their past two games and looked on its way to another similar showing against Florida. But South Carolina finished with just five second-half turnovers to take control.

BAD SHOOTING

When you look at South Carolina’s offensive struggles, it’s hard to believe the Gamecocks came out on top. They went without scoring for the first 7 minutes and finished at 29.4 percent shooting (15 of 51) for the game. South Carolina did hit 23 free throws in a game that featured 55 fouls.

BARRY’S RETURN

Barry, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, returned to the state where he played his first three seasons of college hoops at the College of Charleston. Barry had 10 points in the second half, including two baskets that brought Florida within a point. He made all of his free throws using his father’s signature underhanded style.

UP NEXT

Florida returns home to face Vanderbilt on Saturday.

South Carolina travels to No. 5 Kentucky on Saturday.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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