COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Andrew Nembhard had 21 points and 10 assists as Florida held on to defeat South Carolina 81-68 on Tuesday night.
Keyontae Johnson added 19 points for the Gators (10-4), who opened 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the third time in the past four seasons.
Nembhard was a big reason why. The 6-foot-5 sophomore made 8 of 14 shots, including three 3-pointers. He also had 10 of Florida’s 13 assists as he controlled the action anytime South Carolina (8-6, 0-1) got close.
Johnson scored 10 of his points in the opening half as Florida played without leading scorer and rebounder Kerry Blackshear Jr. for all but two minutes due to foul trouble.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to a point twice in the second half, the last time on Maik Kotsar’s bucket with 13:35 to play. But Scottie Lewis followed with a 3-pointer, Nembhard hit two foul shots and Blackshear made three attempts at the line to push the lead to 61-53.
Florida was still only up 73-68 on Kotsar’s inside basket with 2:43 left. But Nembhard found Blackshear on the next possession, leading to a foul shot before Nembhard put things away with a no-doubt 3-pointer with 2:01 to go to stretch things to 77-68.
South Carolina could not respond in losing its third straight at home.
Kotsar led the Gamecocks with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Florida played an efficient first half despite Blackshear’s absence. The Gators, who came in 10th in the SEC in field-goal percentage, were 16 of 32 from the field in the opening half. Florida used a 24-13 surge during an 11-minute stretch of the first half to move in front. Lewis got the run started with seven straight points, Nembhard had a pair of baskets and Ques Glover made a long jumper from the right side as the Gators took a 40-33 lead with 1:24 left in the half.
The Gamecocks came in to the game dead last in SEC foul shooting (60.3 percent), yet hit 13 of 14 tries in the first 20 minutes. They finished 18 of 24 from the line.
> Florida finished the game on an 8-0 run, holding the Gamecocks scoreless the final 2:43 of regulation.
> Carolina shot just 38.3 percent (23-for-60) in the game. The Gamecocks are now 1-4 when shooting below 40 percent in the 2019-20 season.
> Senior forward Maik Kotsar had a season-high 18 points to go alongside 10 rebounds for his third career double-double. He had a pair of steals, his sixth game this season with two or more takeaways.
> The Tallinn, Estonia, native, played a team-high 36 minutes and was 7-of-12 from the floor.
> Sophomore Keyshawn Bryant (14), redshirt sophomore Justin Minaya (12) and sophomore AJ Lawson (12) also finished in double figures for the Gamecocks.
Carolina will play three of its next four SEC matchups on the road, starting on Saturday when the Gamecocks travel to face Tennessee in Knoxville. Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Pat Bradley (analyst) will have the call for the SEC Network broadcast, which tips at 1 P.M. ET.