Morris: Downey stamps his name in USC history

January 27, 2010 

University of South Carolina's Devan Downey celebrates with teammates Stephen Spinella, left, and Brandis Raley-Ross after taking the lead over Kentucky in the second half at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.

C. ALUKA BERRY/CABERRY@THESTATE.COM

Devan Downey somehow wiggled his way through the mass of South Carolina fans immediately following the Gamecocks pulsating victory against No. 1-ranked Kentucky. He found the edge of the court and found a couple friends to deliver his final message, the exclamation mark on one of the biggest wins in the school's basketball history.

"I told you so!" Downey screamed and pumped his fist against his chest. "I told you so!"

If no one else believed USC could pull the upset, we now know Downey did. He was the beating heart in the aptly named Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday night. He made dazzling play after dazzling play down the stretch of USC's 68-62 victory, plays above and beyond anything we have previously seen from the 5-foot-9 dynamo.

If he had not done so already, Downey forever stamped his name in USC's basketball annals. He may some day see his jersey No. 2 hanging in the rafters, and he may go down as the most explosive package of All-American playmaker the school has ever seen.

Even if none of that happens, though, he forever will be remembered for scheming, directing and orchestrating USC's first victory in its 102-year history against a top-ranked team.

"His greatest quality is his heart," USC coach Darrin Horn said afterward of Downey. "He's got tremendous, tremendous, tremendous heart and will to win and to prove that he can play."

A one-minute stretch late in the game told it all about Downey, who finished with another 30-point effort, his fourth since USC began conference play six games ago.

To that point, Kentucky had tried about everything to stop Downey. The Wildcats alternated John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Deandre Liggins on Downey throughout.

Having essentially thrown up its arms while figuring what it could do to stop Downey, Kentucky then ran two players at Downey when he had the ball in the half court. Downey destroyed that strategy as well when the game's outcome was on the line.

"Devan was hard for us. . . . He made tough shots," said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who throughout marched the sideline with arms in the air asking his players "What are you doing?"

"We were saying, if he makes tough shots, it's going to be hard (to win)," Calipari said, "and he made about three tough ones at tough times."

With 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock and USC inbounding the ball under its basket, Downey somehow made a fade-away jumper from 10 feet on the baseline . . . and got fouled. His free throw gave USC a 54-51 lead.

After a Sam Muldrow blocked shot at the other end of the court, Downey went to work again. This time he spun around two Kentucky defenders and banked in an 8-footer. Finally, on USC's next possession, Downey put a double-shake move on another two Kentucky defenders and lofted a shot high over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-11 Wildcats' defender Demarcus Cousins.

When that shot banked off the backboard and through the nets, USC had 58-54 lead it never relinquished. USC had a win for the ages, a win that will no doubt rank just below the 1971 ACC Tournament championship victory against North Carolina and the SEC championship-clinching triumph at Kentucky in 1997.

It is a win for all former USC coaches and players who in seven previous attempts could not knock off a No. 1-ranked team. It was for Frank McGuire and John Roche and Eddie Fogler and BJ McKie, and all the rest.

It was a win that even went against the nation's No. 1 basketball fan, President Obama, who in a telephone conversation earlier in the day had told the Kentucky team it should not have a problem with USC.

When asked if he was aware of Obama's comment, Downey handled the question as adeptly as he did Kentucky's pressure defense, even though it might have been the only time all night he backed down from a challenge.

"I'm aware," Downey said, "but I'm kind of scared to say something about that. That's the President."

As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock and students broke through the ropes lining the court, Horn turned to his family for hugs, then stood and took it all in. Horn's teams have now beaten Kentucky three consecutive times, which must be particularly sweet since he hails from Lexington, Ky.

"I'm really happy for our players," Horn said, and he mentioned a couple of players off his first USC team who were in attendance. "I'm really happy for our fans."

Those fans snubbed their noses at the Southeastern Conference rule that prohibits the storming of the court following wins. Since this was the first offense for USC in the past three years, a $5,000 fine will come from the SEC.

Eric Hyman, USC's athletics director, said students and fans approached afterward and began handing him $1 bills to help pay the fine. Hyman then sent a text message to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive asking if a win against a No. 1-ranked opponent should merit a reduction in the fine.

As Hyman was collecting the fine money, Downey was slivering out of the crowd on the court. That is when he found his friends and began shouting "I told you so" to them and pounding his chest.

"Let's be honest, nobody gave us a chance," Downey said.

No one except Devan Downey.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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