Trevor Lacey scored 17 points, and Rodney Cooper and Nick Jacobs had 10 each to lead Alabama to a 68-58 victory over South Carolina Saturday.
Levi Randolph contributed nine rebounds as the Crimson Tide (17-8, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) won its third straight game, while the Gamecocks (12-13, 2-10) lost their sixth straight.
For South Carolina, Brenton Williams had 14 points, Bruce Ellington and Laimonas Chatkevicius 11 and Eric Smith 10. Lakeem Jackson had nine rebounds.
Compared to the way his team had been playing lately, South Carolina coach Frank Martin, a long-time friend of Alabama coach Anthony Grant, was encouraged despite the loss.
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"At least we found a handful of guys who had a little enthusiasm for competing today," said Martin, who had harsh words for his team after Thursday night's 64-46 loss to LSU in Columbia. "In four of our last five games we were a little lifeless. In defeat, I feel a little encouraged today.
"In 28 years of coaching I've never said that before. I can't believe I'm saying that I'm encouraged by a loss, but to a certain degree I am. I'm a little encouraged today because some guys responded."
The Tide, which had not scored more than 60 points in its last eight games, opened the game by bolting to a 32-9 lead, topped off by a field goal by Cooper at the 5:55 mark. The run was triggered by six 3-point baskets, two each by Lacey and Retin Obasohan and one each from Trevor Releford and Cooper.
"We're obviously happy to get the win today and take sole possession of second place," Grant said. "We came out with great focus. We answered the bell early. We didn't finish the half well, but I was proud of the way we started the second half. We knew we had to be aggressive and try to attack them. I thought our defense created some offensive opportunities."
South Carolina started out by missing its first eight 3-point attempts. The Gamecocks then outscored the Crimson Tide 15-5 to trim the lead to 35-24 when Ellington banked a 3-pointer just prior to the halftime buzzer.
"We were down real big going in to halftime and coach just came in and told us that we had to keep fighting, and we came out the second half and that’s what we did," Ellington said. "We just have to keep doing that and know that if we don’t get down so early that we can stay in the game and have a chance to win."
In the second half South Carolina sliced the lead to 39-29, the closest that the Gamecocks would get, but the Crimson Tide responded with a 14-4 run to extend the lead to 53-33 on two free throws by Releford with 11:04 to go.
"The key for us was to try and flip that momentum," Grant said. "We had a spurt there and we flipped the momentum. We did a good job of getting control again."
The Gamecocks have been spiraling downward since defeating Arkansas on Jan. 26. Martin, who questioned the work ethic of his team after the LSU loss, found more positives to speak of on Saturday.
"Today we actually had some guys helping each other – they spoke to each other," Martin said. "They tried to help each other on both ends of the floor and they actually ran some things that I asked them to run rather than run whatever they ran on their fourth grade nine-and-under team or whatever it was.
"After what we have done for the last three weeks, I finally saw a little resolve from a group of guys – not all of them – from a group of guys. Hopefully that attitude maybe permeates to some of the other guys on our team so that they can re-engage, because when we were engaged a month ago – we weren’t the greatest team in the world – but at least it was fun to coach. At least it was fun to take our product into other arenas and do what my teams have done for 28 years, which is really compete and play as a unit."
South Carolina hosts Ole Miss at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
SOUTH CAROLINA (12-13)
Chatkevicius 4-8 3-7 11, Carrera 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 3-4 0-0 6, Richardson 0-5 4-6 4, Ellington 5-12 0-0 11, Williams 6-12 0-0 14, Smith 4-6 0-0 10, Kacinas 0-1 0-0 0, Leonard 0-1 0-0 0, Slawson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-51 7-13 58.
Gueye 1-1 1-3 3, Lacey 6-11 3-3 17, Releford 2-6 4-6 9, Randolph 2-7 2-3 6, Cooper 4-9 1-3 10, Jacobs 4-6 2-5 10, Pollard 1-3 3-6 5, Obasohan 2-4 2-4 8. Totals 22-47 18-33 68.
Halftime: Alabama 35-24. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 5-17 (Smith 2-4, Williams 2-5, Ellington 1-4, Richardson 0-4), Alabama 6-19 (Obasohan 2-3, Lacey 2-6, Releford 1-2, Cooper 1-4, Pollard 0-1, Randolph 0-3). Fouled Out: Chatkevicius, Jackson. Rebounds: South Carolina 34 (Jackson 9), Alabama 31 (Randolph 9). Assists: South Carolina 9 (Ellington 3), Alabama 12 (Releford 5). Total Fouls: South Carolina 22, Alabama 16. Attendance: 13,112.