Gators keep streak alive, rip Gamecocks

Florida forward Casey Prather (24) dumps the ball through the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Scottie Wilbekin scored 17 points before getting helped to the locker room with a sprained right ankle, and No. 10 Florida opened Southeastern Conference play with a 74-58 victory against South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Casey Prather and Patric Young added 13 points apiece for the Gators (12-2, 1-0), who won their sixth straight and tied a school record by winning their 24th consecutive home game.

A fast start and strong finish were keys to the latest victory in the O'Connell Center.

But Wilbekin's injury was all that mattered afterward. The senior point guard badly sprained the same ankle Dec. 2 against Connecticut. He entered the game averaging 11.8 points and 4.0 assists.

He was driving up for a layup with just under 3 minutes to play - coach Billy Donovan still had most of his starters on the floor - and came down awkwardly on his right foot. Trainers carried him off the floor and to the locker room for X-rays.

Donovan immediately pulled the rest of his starters at that point.

Tyrone Johnson led South Carolina (7-7, 0-1) with 12 points. Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams chipped in 10 points each.

Florida made six of its first seven shots and led 14-1 before the players barely broke a sweat. The Gamecocks went more than 9 minutes without a basket and trailed 16-4 before Mindaugas Kacinas' jumper.

Things got worse for South Carolina, too. The Gamecocks had as many turnovers (12) as field goal attempts with 6 minutes to play in the first half and were down 18.

Coach Frank Martin's team woke up early in the second half, cutting the lead to 40-32 on Michael Carrera's jumper.

But the Gators responded with a flurry of shots. Prather converted a three-point play, Wilbekin sank a deep 3-pointer and Young hit a hook shot in the paint. Prather found Dorian Finney-Smith on the scoring end of an alley-oop that made it 52-37.

A few minutes later, Michael Frazier II and Wilbekin hit treys that pushed the lead back to 18, 60-42.

Florida coasted from there, winning for the 11th time in 12 games. The only loss was a buzzer-beater at then-No. 12 Connecticut.

The Gators haven't lost at home since March 4, 2012, against Kentucky. The previous 24-game, home-winning streak came between March 2006 and November 2007. Two-time defending national champions Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah did most of the heavy lifting in that one.

Florida's four seniors - Wilbekin, Prather, Young and Will Yeguete - can take credit for a big chunk of this one.

Only Missouri (26 games), Duke (25) and Stephen F. Austin (25) have longer winning streaks at home. The Tigers were trying to make it 27 in a row against Georgia on Wednesday.

The Gators can break the record next Tuesday against the Bulldogs.