This week, Frank Martin said he wanted to see passion. On Wednesday, USC had it.
He talked about playing without fear. On Wednesday, the Gamecocks were fearless.
He talked about, well, talking. On Wednesday, the Gamecocks’ voices were heard.
In defeating NCAA tourney candidate Ole Miss 63-62 at Colonial Life Arena, the Gamecocks didn’t salvage the season, but they certainly got back on track.
More on that in a bit. For now, let’s set the scene.
USC had watched its 54-49 lead vanish in the rubble of an 11-0 Rebels explosion. Trailing 60-54 with 5:53 remaining, Martin called a timeout
“I can tell you what definitely didn’t happen during that timeout,” Martin said. “We didn’t talk about playing patty-cake. I can promise you that.”
Then, as he prepared yet another treatise on playing fearlessly, it happened — the players who destroyed Arkansas before going missing during a six-game losing streak donned their uniforms.
“Somewhere in the middle of that timeout, Bruce Ellington, again, opened his mouth and said we worked too hard to give in to this moment,” Martin said. “And Eric Smith jumped on that comment and then (Michael) Carrera, who had not been in the game, he jumped in the timeout and just created a positive moment in a difficult situation, so you leave the huddle feeling good.”
Ole Miss would manage two more points.
Trailing 62-56, USC rattled off the game’s final seven points, showing it could close out a tight game. Smith nailed what would be the game-winning 3-point basket with 25.1 seconds remaining, and Lakeem Jackson delivered the biggest block of the season on the ensuing Ole Miss possession to put the Rebels in must-foul mode.
Carrera had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds as USC improved to 13-13 overall and 3-10 in the SEC.
Smith finished with 12 points in one of his best games in conference play and said afterward the game-winner was the biggest shot of his life.
Former Dutch Fork standout Murphy Holloway led all scorers with 19 points, the first nine of which came consecutively toward the end of the first half. Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer, was held to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting, though he was 3-for-3 with his fist against a locker room door following the game.
The victory came at a cost. Martin handed one of his best friends a potentially deadly defeat. Ole Miss fell to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in league play. Afterward, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy acknowledged his team now found itself on the bubble, but added he was happy for the man with whom he had coached at Cincinnati.
“One thing I would like to say is, if we take a (loss), I’m glad it was to Frank,” Kennedy said. “Because he’s worked so hard, his kids have worked so hard. For a team that has lost 10 league games and six straight, for them to continue to battle shows they have a great deal of pride.”
During the previous three weeks, Martin feared that pride had been lost. On Wednesday, it was found.
Buckner 3-5 1-2 7, Holloway 7-13 5-7 19, Millinghaus 4-13 0-0 11, Williams 2-4 0-0 5, Henderson 4-17 0-0 11, White 2-5 0-0 5, Perez 0-1 0-0 0, Brutus 2-3 0-0 4, Summers 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-64 6-9 62.
SOUTH CAROLINA (13-13)
Chatkevicius 3-7 0-0 7, Carrera 6-12 1-2 13, Jackson 1-6 2-4 4, Smith 5-9 0-1 12, Ellington 4-14 0-0 9, Williams 3-8 0-1 8, Richardson 2-7 0-0 6, Slawson 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 26-65 3-8 63.
Halftime: South Carolina 34-33. 3-Point Goals: Mississippi 8-24 (Millinghaus 3-8, Henderson 3-11, Williams 1-1, White 1-3, Summers 0-1), South Carolina 8-19 (Richardson 2-4, Smith 2-4, Williams 2-5, Chatkevicius 1-1, Ellington 1-5). Fouled Out: Buckner. Rebounds: Mississippi 43 (Holloway 13), South Carolina 40 (Carrera 13). Assists: Mississippi 11 (Summers 3), South Carolina 15 (Smith 5). Total Fouls: Mississippi 13, South Carolina 14. Attendance: 7,721.