March 12, 2006
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Joakim Noah scored with 11 seconds left then blocked a shot at the other end, and No. 16 Florida held off South Carolina 49-47 Sunday for a second straight Southeastern Conference tournament championship in a sloppy game in which the Gamecocks nearly pulled off the improbable upset.
Florida (27-6) already had its 13th NCAA tournament berth assured. The Gators talked of wanting revenge against a team that swept them in the regular season, and they led the entire way but never put away South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (18-15) already were the lowest seed ever to play in this championship and had played in this game only once before - in 1998.
With winning the title their only chance of reaching the NCAA tournament, they were trying to become the first team since Arkansas in 2000 to win four games in four days. They almost pulled it off.
South Carolina guard Rocky Trice tied the game for the only time at 47 with 42 seconds left when he drove through the lane and scored on a layup. Corey Brewer of Florida missed a short jumper, but Noah followed up with the winning basket.
South Carolina had a chance to win or force overtime, but Tre Kelley's 3 missed. Renaldo Balkman tried to tip the ball in to force overtime, but Noah got a hand on the ball to clinch the Gators' fifth straight victory.
Brewer finished with 16 points for Florida, while Taurean Green added 10 and Noah eight.
Balkman, Tarence Kinsey and Kelley each had 12 points for South Carolina, and Balkman grabbed 11 rebounds.
The Gators came in as the first team other than Kentucky to reach three straight title games since Alabama made four consecutive appearances from 1989-1992.
South Carolina, which joined the SEC in 1991, was blown out 86-56 by Kentucky in its only other title game.
Florida should have done the same with the Gamecocks turning in their worst shooting performance of the season (30 percent). The Gators instead hurt themselves with 18 turnovers, including 12 steals by the SEC's stingiest defense.
Neither team started well, and the fatigue apparently got to the Gamecocks who hit only three of their first 24 shots. The team that hit 10 3s to upset Florida in Gainesville on Feb. 8, missed their first 13 3-pointers.
The low point for South Carolina was a stretch in which the Gamecocks missed four shots on one possession before Balkman finally scored. That might finally have got them started because Sheldon hit a 3 on the next possession followed by another 3 by Kelley that pulled them within 21-14 with 3:11 to go.
Balkman stole the ball from Brewer and fed Kinsey for a layup with 39 seconds left that cut Florida's lead to 25-18 going into halftime.