South Carolina Basketball: Meechie Johnson, 1-3-1 zone fuel comeback win over Florida

South Carolina basketball is still in the running for the SEC regular season championship as they knocked off the Florida Gators in an 82-76 thriller.

South Carolina basketball guard Meechie Johnson
South Carolina basketball guard Meechie Johnson / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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For the first time in a long time, South Carolina basketball played a ranked vs. ranked game at Colonial Life Arena. The 24th-ranked Florida Gators traveled to Columbia to take on the 18th-ranked Gamecocks with both teams feeling really good about their NCAA Tournament chances.

Both teams were still alive in the SEC regular season standings, as well, though the Gators were a long shot coming into the game to make up the 2-game lead held by the Alabama Crimson Tide and Tennessee Volunteers. South Carolina, on the other hand, was just one game back.

The UF-USC battle started with a Micah Handlogten win on the tip, but an 0-2 start from the Gators gave the ball back to the Gamecocks. Ta'Lon Cooper lit up the scoreboard first with an elbow jumper, and after a Cooper steal, Collin Murray-Boyles made the score 4-0 when he got a post shot in traffic to fall. Point guard Zyon Pullin got the visiting team in blue on the board with a tough fallaway jumper.

The game's 5th combined turnover in the opening 3 minutes marked the ugly style of the early goings, and Pullin came down the floor and made another tough pull-up from the elbow to even the score. Yet another giveaway (this one from Florida's Walter Clayton) mercifully sent the contest to the media timeout.

Florida had a clear plan to double Collin Murray-Boyles in the post, and Carolina made them pay with good ball movement. Jacobi Wright was the recipient, canning an open 3-pointer. Then, the junior guard came down and made another on the next possession. Zach Davis hit a midrange shot to push the lead to 12-4.

Pullin ended the run with a floater as he was responsible for all 6 of Florida's points. He was fouled on the shot but missed the free throw. Jacobi Wright answered with an and-1 layup but also missed the foul shot. Todd Golden's team, though, made back-to-back paint baskets to make the score 14-10 heading into the under-12 timeout.

After the short break, Pullin found Tyrese Samuel for an alley-oop, and then Riley Kugel hit a 3-pointer. The 9-0 run for Florida put them back on top. The run didn't stop there, though, as Florida went on a 14-0 run in just over 3 minutes.

The Gamecocks didn't score for over 5 minutes, but even with how badly they played during the Gator run, a Jacobi Wright 1-2 trip to the charity stripe meant they were only down by 5. That number grew to 8 when Thomas Haugh hit a triple from the top of the key. His 7 early points were double his season average.

After some free throws, Zach Davis and Collin Murray-Boyles turned up the intensity on defense, holding the Gators back with 2 blocks on back-to-back possessions. Ta'Lon Cooper hit an open 3-pointer, and the 7-0 run put USC down by just 1 point.

The two teams traded points over the next couple of possessions, and then Walter Clayton got away with a vicious Derrick Henry-like stiff-arm as the officiating crew whistled Meechie Johnson for a foul after getting thrown across the arena. In a clear example of "Ball Don't Lie," near-90% free throw shooter Clayton missed the foul shot that followed.

When the Gamecock brought the ball back down the floor, they took the lead on a monster slam from Collin Murray-Boyles, but Zyon Pullin made a tough shot to regain the advantage. A few more scores for both squads saw Florida pull ahead 34-31, and in the final minute of the half, Clayton hit his 2nd 3-pointer. BJ Mack got blocked on a jumper to end the half, pushing the score to 37-31.

A Tyrese Samuel hook shot and Ta'Lon Cooper 3-pointer were the only scores in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the 2nd half. The odd officiating continued as Collin Murray-Boyles got shoved in the chest, but then Ta'Lon Cooper was called for a foul without touching the shooter.

Mack dropped a pass on one end of the floor and then didn't step up in the pick-and-roll on the other end. Thankfully for the Gamecocks, he answered with a post bucket for his first points of the game. Meechie Johnson's second turnover of the half resulted in a run out for Zyon Pullin, and the dynamic guard had his layup attempt wedged between the rim and backboard by Zach Davis. Goaltending was called, however, as the ball had already touched the glass.

Jacobi Wright knocked down his fourth 3-pointer, but Walter Clayton responded with his third. The next time Florida had the ball, Clayton matched Wright's total with a 30-footer. Ta'Lon Cooper was called for his third foul on a Pullin layup attempt, and after he sank both freebies, the Gators led 52-44.

Mack missed on offense and then allowed a free run to the basket for an alley-oop to Alex Condon, and UF led by 10. Condon then threw Mack to the floor without a foul call, but the Gamecocks got a stop anyway. Meechie Johnson's first made 3-ball made the score 56-49 with 11:40 left to play.

Josh Gray made a nice baby hook through some contact (and-1), and a Carolina 1-3-1 zone forced a turnover and subsequent third foul for Walter Clayton. Another turnover from the Gators followed, and after two Murray-Boyles free throws, Florida's 10-point lead had shrunk to just 4.

A few possessions later with Florida up 5, Carolina's 1-3-1 put the Gators in offensive jail as they had to force up an ugly outside shot. The 6-2 USC run since switching to the zone became 8-2 after two CMB swishes from the free throws. A near turnover turned into a desperation made 3 from Zyon Pullin, and Josh Gray forced a fourth foul on Micah Handlogten. A 1-2 trip to the line was followed by a 1-2 trip for Meechie Johnson.

A great tip-pass on an offensive rebound from Zach Davis to Murray-Boyles resulted in two CMB free throws that tied the score at 63-63. After just 4 turnovers in the game's first 28 minutes, Florida committed its 5th just against the 1-3-1, and Meechie Johnson went to work on Will Richard. A one-man effort put the Gamecocks ahead, and after a Tyrese Samuel floater, Ta'Lon Cooper made the score 68-65 with a 3-pointer off the dribble.

Walter Clayton tied the game with his 5th long ball, but two more buckets from Meechie Johnson (the second off of another UF turnover) put the home team up 72-68 with 3 minutes to go in the game. In just 8 minutes in the 1-3-1, Carolina forced 6 turnovers (3 from Walter Clayton) and went on a 23-10 run.

Clayton's 6th turnover of the game gave the Gamecocks an extra possession, but the freshly re-inserted BJ Mack missed a shot. Riley Kugel hit a corner jumper to move the deficit to just 1 point, but Meechie Johnson hit a tough shot in response. Clayton was given too much space, and the sharpshooter hit his 6th 3-pointer to tie the game.

The tie lasted all of 30 seconds as Meechie Johnson sank his second 3-point jumper for his 23rd, 24th, and 25th points of the game. The Gamecocks led 77-74 with 43 seconds remaining.

Zyon Pullin couldn't get a layup to go against nice help defense from Collin Murray-Boyles, and the freshman forward was able to pull down the rebound. Florida fouled him immediately, and he sank both clutch free throws.

Florida turned the ball over after their first offensive rebound of the 2nd half, but Carolina gave it right back after a bad pass from Zach Davis sent Collin Murray-Boyles out of bounds. Florida gave it right back but was bailed out with a foul call after zero contact. Walter Clayton hit both free throws to cut the lead to 3 with 13 seconds left.

Jacobi Wright got sent to the line on the inbound, but he only made 1 of 2. Murray-Boyles blocked a Walter Clayton 3-point attempt just before the buzzer. Zach Davis ended up with the ball and was fouled before the clock hit 0, so the sophomore added 2 points to his ledger from the line as the Gamecocks won a tough game to keep their SEC championship hopes alive.

76. 526. South Carolina Basketball vs. Florida Gators. 82. 533. Final