No. 24 Florida visits No. 18 South Carolina for SEC showdown

No. 24 Florida visits No. 18 South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday for a contest that figures to have a major impact on seedings for the Southeastern Conference tournament.The Gamecocks (23

No. 24 Florida visits No. 18 South Carolina for SEC showdown

No. 24 Florida visits No. 18 South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday for a contest that figures to have a major impact on seedings for the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Gamecocks (23-5, 11-4 SEC) enter the weekend ranked third in the conference standings after their gritty 70-68 win at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The Gators (20-8, 10-5) are in a three-way tie for fourth following an 83-74 win over last-place Missouri on Wednesday.

Kentucky and Auburn also are 10-5 with three games left in the regular season. The top four teams in the final regular-season standings earn byes to the SEC tourney quarterfinals.

A win Saturday won’t clinch a bye for either the Gamecocks or the Gators as both still have critical tests down the stretch. The winner will secure the tiebreaker, however, if they end up deadlocked.

“It seems like every game gets tougher and tougher as we move forward, and there’s more on the line each time,” South Carolina coach Lamont Paris said after his team got by the Aggies on Zach Davis’ layup with three seconds left.

The Gamecocks have won their last two outings after dropping back-to-back games for the first time this season at Auburn and shockingly at home to LSU.

“I think this whole season as been like a steady preparation for us,” Paris said. “We’ve achieved and we’ve been resilient and we’ve had a bunch of close games.”

The Gamecocks bounced back from the losses with a win at Ole Miss before handing the Aggies a fifth consecutive defeat. Meechie Johnson scored 22 points and Davis added 16 to lead South Carolina.

Meanwhile Florida has been one of the hottest teams in the league with a 9-2 record since mid-January.

“We’ve got a team that’s been playing extremely well coming into our place,” Paris said.

The Gators had to work hard to put away Missouri after losing leading scorer Walter Clayton Jr. to fouls with more than 14 minutes left in the game. They led 54-44 shortly after he left, but saw the Tigers go on a 9-0 run to get it down to 54-53 at the 9:46 mark.

Florida managed to hold onto a lead the rest of the way but couldn’t breathe easy until going up by double digits in the final minute. Tyrese Samuel posted a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with a career-high 28 points, Zyon Pullin added 21, and Micah Handlogten recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Samuel and Pullin scored 23 of the Gators’ final 25 points.

“We just kind of went with the hot hand,” Gators coach Todd Golden said.

Clayton finished with 13 points in 22 minutes but had to sit after picking up a technical foul for protesting the call on his fourth personal.

“They said he used bad language toward the bench,” Golden said, shaking his head. “I’m not going to comment.”