At the beginning of the night, the stark image for South Carolina was one of its best players standing line, using crutches during the national anthem.
By the end, the starkest image was of its best player scoring point after point, and carrying his team to a 97-93 victory against Jacksonville.
Devan Downey scored half of his 34 points in the final 5:24, all 17 of those coming after Jacksonville briefly took the lead. The senior put the team on his back, first pulling it ahead then keeping the Dolphins away.
"I just wanted to do whatever it took to win," Downey said. "Because I felt like it was my time to step up."
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For the first time since March 30, 2006, Dominique Archie was not introduced into the Gamecock starting lineup. As Brandis Raley-Ross' name was announced in his place, Archie sat in the second row, his injured right leg draped on a chair. The senior forward is out indefinitely with a sprained right knee.
"It was new for me," said Raley-Ross, a fellow senior. "You miss seeing him fly everywhere. You miss seeing him do something spectacular, whether it's dunking on somebody or blocking somebody's shot. So it was an adjustment."
The Gamecocks (5-1) may have missed Archie most on defense. The Dolphins, playing at a high pace, were able to shoot 50 percent and out-rebound the taller Gamecocks, 35-30.
The result was the highest-scoring game in the Colonial Life Arena, which opened in 2001.
Jacksonville (0-3) was picked by the coaches and media to win the Atlantic Sun, though the Dolphins lost their first two games --- at Florida State and California --- by an average of 29 points.
USC trailed for 22 seconds, by one point, before Downey scored 11 points during a 12-3 run that put the Gamecocks back in control.
It was the fourth 30-point game of Downey's career.
But USC coach Darrin Horn was dismayed that it was needed at all. Downey was part of the defensive problem, according to the coach, who pointed out that Jacksonville point guard Ben Smith scored 31.
"I did a terrible job of setting the tone," Downey said. "As I go the team goes. They just follow me. I take total responsibility for the defensive performance tonight."
The Gamecocks' biggest lead was 12. But with 5:40 left, Travis Cohn nailed a 3 to give Jacksonville a 75-74 lead.
Then Downey took over.
Fouled away from the ball, the senior hit two free throws. After defensive pressure forced the Dolphins to throw the ball away, Downey made a running banker.
A minute later, his baseline jumper made it a five-point game. Then he sunk two more free throws to make it 83-76.
Finally, a long, straight-ahead 3-pointer gave USC an eight-point lead with 1:50 left.
Jacksonville still didn't go away, drawing within four with 50 seconds left. It then got the ball back on a steal, but missed a 3, and off the rebound Downey made a running fast-break layup.
"We made an adjustment late to get him off the ball to put him in scoring position," Horn said. "He made plays. That's what he does best. And so there's no question tit was big for us tonight. But I think it was big because it was at the right time, I don't think the amount is really that important."