Originally created 01/08/01

South Carolina 69, Florida 68



COLUMBIA - The statistics sheet said Travis Kraft played one minute in Sunday's game against Florida, but that number isn't entirely accurate.

Really, the sophomore swingman for South Carolina saw just 13.7 seconds of action in Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener.

But Kraft's impact was far more profound than anyone else's. His NBA-range 3-pointer from the left wing plunged through the net with less than a second left to give South Carolina a pulsating 69-68 victory over the No. 5 Gators before 9,963 at Carolina Coliseum.

Kraft was on the bench until he entered with 19.6 seconds left and the Gamecocks down 67-66.

"Both before the game and at halftime, coach personally said, `Travis, be ready. We might need you,"' said Kraft, who helped give the Gamecocks their first triumph over a Top 5 team since they won at No. 3 Kentucky on March 1, 1997.

Kraft wore a look of disbelief before he was mobbed by his coaches, teammates and fans - head coach Eddie Fogler included - at center court.

"I was in shock," said Kraft, a 6-foot-7, 205-pounder from Mayville, N.D. "It was unbelievable."

The Gators (10-2, 0-1 SEC) didn't believe it either. They played without their second-best player, injured forward Brent Wright, and they also had to do without foul-plagued center Udonis Haslem for all but 14 minutes thanks to foul trouble.

Still, they were gritty and determined. Sophomore forward Matt Bonner emerged with 18 points and 15 rebounds, both game-highs, to help Florida amass a 10 point lead with 4:29 left and a seven-point cushion with 2:46 remaining.

But South Carolina slowly chipped away. The Gamecocks (9-3, 1-0) got six straight points from freshman Rolando Howell to pull within 65-64, and after guard Justin Hamilton put Florida up 67-64, a running one-hander by point guard Aaron Lucas cut it to 67-66 with 39 seconds remaining.

Bonner missed the front end of a one-and-one, then Lucas misfired on another runner with 12 seconds left. The Gamecocks fouled Bonner again and he hit one of two free throws to push the lead to 68-66 with 11.5 ticks remaining.

Play stopped three times in the final, frantic moments. Swingman Chuck Eidson checked in for Kraft, then, after the ball went off a Gator and out of bounds with 5.6 seconds left, Fogler reconsidered and sent Kraft back in for Eidson.

Kraft inbounded the ball to Lucas, but Gator guard Orien Greene knocked it out of Lucas' grasp and out of bounds. With 2.5 seconds showing, Kraft again inbounded the ball from the left sideline. This time, he tossed it to forward Calvin Clemmons, who looked back and saw Kraft standing alone far beyond the 3-point line.

"I noticed they weren't guarding me," Kraft said, "so when I passed it to Calvin, he passed it right back."

The follow-through was perfect. And so was the shot.

"That thing was right in front of me," Fogler said. "I knew it was in as soon as it left his hands."

The Gamecocks were just 21-of-40 on free throws (52 percent), but Howell drained 9-of-10 to help keep his team in it.

Haslem finished with a season-low four points and turned it over three times. The Gators, who saw their seven-game winning streak snapped, also had won four straight over the Gamecocks before Kraft dealt the dagger.

"Here's a guy who has not played the whole entire game, sitting on the bench for probably an hour and probably 45, 50 minutes," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team lost its third straight SEC opener. "To come in the game and to knock down a shot of that magnitude, you've got to give him credit. I don't know what else to say."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com.