GAINESVILLE -- Florida tied the school record with its 24th straight win at the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night, beating South Carolina 74-58 in the SEC opener for both.
But the Gators (12-2) lost point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had a game-high 17 points, late in the game when he was helped off the court with an apparent right ankle sprain. He’ll be reevaluated on Thursday and Gators coach Billy Donovan said he’ll know more on Friday where Wilbekin’s status stands.
He’s already sat out the start of the season because of suspension and had a high ankle sprain earlier in the season, playing in only nine of UF’s 14 games.
The Gators extended their current winning streak to six while the Gamecocks (7-6) had a four-game streak snapped. Florida is now 13-5 in SEC openers under Donovan and the seventh win the last eight meetings with USC in Gainesville.
South Carolina trailed by 13 at the half but got within 40-32 on a jumper by guard Michael Carrera with 14:46 to play.
“That’s a recurring theme that when we are playing against a team we know we’re better than on paper, and they don’t have the best record, that we allow human nature to kick in and us have a mindset of relaxing a little bit instead of the killer instinct of keep pushing and pursuing greatness,’’ center Patric Young said.
Another quick Gators run put the game out of reach as Casey Prather and Young added 13 points each for Florida and had key roles in finishing off the Gamecocks.
“Any win is a great win,’’ Prather said. “We have to tighten up a couple of things, though.’’
The Gamecocks shot just 31.6 percent in the first half but 54.5 in the second.
Florida didn’t miss a shot in the first five-plus minutes of the game, while building a comfortable lead. Meanwhile, South Carolina missed its first seven shots and turned the ball over eight times in the opening eight-plus minutes. The Gamecocks got their first field goal of the game on a jumper by forward Mindaugas Kacinas with 10:35 remaining in the first 20 minutes.
Prather scored six straight for the Gators at one point as the lead stretched to 28-10 at the 6:04 mark. It was 34-21 at the break.
In the second half, South Carolina made things interesting early but Florida, which shot 57.8 percent for the game and forced the Gamecocks into 21 turnovers (eight over their average) was never seriously pushed.
“We didn’t turn it over,’’ Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said of getting things closer early in the second half. “We actually tried to run offense. We didn’t just throw it and shoot shots, we took care of the ball, we passed it, we tried to attack it and we made some shots.
“Give Florida credit, they had guys jump up and make shots and we just struggled. We got (the score) to 50-42 and I told the team we had a chance and to be solid for three straight possessions and it would be a different ball game coming down the stretch.
“Instead we took shortcuts on three consecutive defensive possessions that led to two 3s and an easy two and the game goes from 50-42 to 58-42.’’
Donovan also announced after the game that Damontre Harris is back at school and could work his way back on the team next season. Harris transferred to UF from South Carolina and sat out last season. He left the Gators program during the holiday break and went home then changed his mind and asked to be allowed to come back.
He will attend classes this semester but not be involved with basketball.