I think if I had to choose one, it would be Antonio Grant picking up that ball that BJ McKie fumbled and in one motion, shooting a 3-pointer to beat Cincinnati in 1998.
That wasn’t just one of the many miracles I’ve seen in a lifetime of watching college hoops.
That was, “How in the hell did that just happen?”
The Gamecocks won a game they had no business winning. Then and Thursday. USC committed a horrific blunder when Duane Notice fouled Jarvis Summers on a 3-pointer in a three-point game, and that 3-pointer went in, as did the and-1 with 3.3 seconds to go. In 1998, USC trailed by 23 in the second half only to have one last chance with four seconds to go.
Each time, the Gamecocks won. On Thursday, because Ole Miss elected to play tight defense when Ty Johnson, at best, would have had to run full-speed to at least half-court, stop, set and shoot a perfect shot in 3.3 seconds.
“No, I’ve never,” coach Frank Martin said. “I’ve been in games that came down to a foul, never on back-to-back fouls like that.”
It was the right call on the foul, and USC somehow survived. After seemingly losing a game that only South Carolina could lose, the Gamecocks are in the SEC tournament quarterfinals for the second straight year. Frank Martin has won four tournament games in two years when USC won four combined from 2006-13.
Next – Georgia. Another thing I picked up from watching hoops for nearly 40 (but not quite there) years is that it’s really, really tough to beat a good team three times in a season.
USC has seen it. Remember 2006, the year that supplied three of those four SEC tournament wins before the last two years? The Gamecocks beat Florida twice that season, then played them in the SEC tournament final, and lost by an agonizing two points. USC went on to win the NIT, its second straight.
Florida won the national championship, the first of two straight. Hard to say the Bulldogs will challenge for the national title, but they’re gunning for the NCAA tournament, and again, they may not be fully healthy. USC beat Georgia once this year when it didn’t have Marcus Thornton, and once when it didn’t have J.J. Frazier. Then again, each time USC only had nine players available, and on Friday, should have nine again – Reggie Theus hasn’t been with the team due to a concussion, but he was unlikely to play anyway. Georgia will have a game-time decision on Kenny Gaines (foot) and Juwan Parker (Achilles).
“At home, they were under-manned,” Martin said. “At their place, they were under-manned. So were we both times. I think now we both have a full compliment of players.”
The Bulldogs will obviously be the fresher team, but as Laimonas Chatkevicius said, that’s all mental. USC is here, rising in the eyes of the NIT (and/or CBI) and another win clinches a no-doubt winning season for the first time in six years (USC has already clinched a non-losing season, which avoids six straight losing years for the first time ever).
Why not bust another bracket? Every year, there’s a team that makes an unlikely run through a tournament. The Gamecocks are doing it for the second straight year, when last year’s run ended in the tournament quarterfinals.
“They won’t give in to difficult moments,” Martin said. “They come in every day, whether it’s a good day or bad day, and they’re excited about the next opportunity.”