Chandler Parsons drained a 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired, giving UF a pulsating 58-56 SEC win over South Carolina despite a sensational 36-point scoring effort from Downey, the Gamecocks' superb senior point guard.
It was the second game-winning trey by Parsons this month, coming three weeks after his 75-foot heave at the end of overtime found the net in a 62-61 road win over N.C. State.
“I just keep asking myself how this can happen twice,” said an elated Parsons. “Honestly, I was just in the right place at the right time.”
“I'm just very very happy for Chandler,” said head coach Billy Donovan. “I think he has grown so much and he's put in a lot of hard work. He's put himself in position mentally to be able to step up and make a shot like that. Anytime you see a young man developing and having some success, you're happy for him.”
The win, the third SEC victory in a row for the Gators, improved Donovan's squad to 14-5 overall and 3-2 in league play, while the Gamecocks, who opened SEC play with back-to-back wins, dropped their third straight to fall to 11-8, 2-3.
When Downey, who came into the game averaging an SEC-best 30.3 points a game in league contests, split the double-team of UF's Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and scored on a scoop off the glass with only five seconds left to play, it looked like the Gators were going to suffer another heartbreaking loss to the Gamecocks. But senior Dan Werner quickly grabbed the ball after it went through the basket, passed it into Walker, who drove down the center of the court and drew two South Carolina defenders to him before passing to Parsons, who let the game-winner fly just before the horn sounded.
“I thought it was great awareness on Dan Werner's part when he inbounded the ball as quickly as he did,” Donovan said. “And I thought it was a great job by Erving Walker of understanding where the game clock was at in terms of him driving the ball and then finding Chandler. I thought it was great awareness by our team in that situation.”
“Dan made a great heady play by getting the ball out fast, and Erv drew the defense and found me open,” Parsons added. “I struggled shooting all game long, but it felt good leaving my hand. I'm not going to say the N.C. State one felt good, but this one definitely did. And it felt really good to do it at home and get a win like this.”
Almost lost in the excitement of Parsons' buzzer-beater was the fact that just moments earlier, Boynton, UF's fabulous freshman who was held scoreless in the first half, stepped up to the foul line and drained three clutch free throws with just 11 seconds left to give UF a 55-54 lead.
Downey had hit a baseline jumper with 22 seconds remaining to put the Gamecocks up 54-52, but Boynton was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer by South Carolina's Ramon Galloway on the ensuing possession.
“I wasn't really thinking about much except making free throws,” Boynton, who finished as the Gators' leading scorer with 14 points despite being shut out in the first half. “I just told myself to take these free throws one at a time, and that's what I did.”
“I give him a lot of credit for stepping up and knocking down not only two of them, but all three,” Donovan said.
Joining Boynton in double figures for UF were Walker (13 points), Alex Tyus (12) and Parsons (10), who added a game-high 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Tyus was right behind with nine rebounds while Werner added seven, including four on the offensive end, as the Gators won the board battle, 36-34.
The score was tied 11 times and there were 17 lead changes in the tightly-played game. UF's biggest lead of the night was six points, while South Carolina's was three.
South Carolina wanted no part of an up-and-down game with UF, choosing to milk the shot clock on almost every position, then getting the ball to Downey, who took 25 of his team's 55 shots in the game.
“All they tried to do was shorten the game,” Donovan said of the Gamecocks. “They got the shot clock down to 10 seconds every time and then let Downey try to make some plays. We had two guys on him the entire game, so his 36 was really against two guys. He's a special player.”
The Gators will try to make it four straight in SEC play when they entertain Georgia Wednesday night at 7. The Bulldogs (9-8, 1-3) upset No. 8 Tennessee Saturday night for their first league win of the year.