Before the basketball fell off the front rim, Maik Kotsar was already sliding into position for an offensive rebound. The hustle was reflective of the South Carolina forward’s performance to that point of Wednesday evening.
If the Gamecocks were going down in this SEC tournament, they weren’t going to be timid about it. Kotsar seemed poised to lead this kind of aggression.
So the 6-foot-10, 260-pounder, with 3:36 left in the first half against Ole Miss, sacrificed his body among a sea of jerseys, both blue and white. He never got the rebound – because Chris Silva had the same idea. The two Gamecocks crashed into one another, and the Rebels took possession the other way.
It’s been one of those seasons for South Carolina, where unpredictability seems to lurk around every corner.
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The strange ride will continue through at least Thursday after USC, the No. 11 seed, rallied to beat 14th-seeded Ole Miss, 85-84, before a crowd of 8,190 at the Scottrade Center.
“It’s the time of year where, whether I’m happy or sad or in a good mood or a bad mood, it’s all irrelevant,” said USC coach Frank Martin. “It’s all about surviving and advancing.”
Carolina (17-15) next faces No. 6 Arkansas (21-10) at approximately 9:30 Thursday evening.
The Gamecocks led by as many as nine and trailed by as many as five against the Rebels (12-20). Down 59-55 with 11:21 left, South Carolina went on a season-saving hot streak.
USC hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions – two by Justin Minaya and the closer from Frank Booker. It became a 13-2 run that put Carolina up seven with 9:11 remaining.
“I just felt like we moved the ball well, and we got open shots, and we made them,” said Booker, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “I don’t think we did anything special. We moved the ball like we usually do and we made shots like we usually do.”
Martin used the stretch to refer to his October observation about this particular team being the best shooting bunch he’s had in his 11 years as head coach.
Of course, the Gamecocks entered Wednesday last in the SEC in field goal percentage. They made 46.6 percent of their attempts against the Rebels, including 12 of 21 3s.
“We’ve showed that at times this year,” Martin said. “We’ve had multiple guys, like nine guys make multiple 3s in games. The problem is we’re very inconsistent with our passing. Our passing is not as good as it needs to be. We didn’t defend anybody today, but I thought our passing was better.”
USC had 17 assists on 27 FGs.
Ole Miss, playing out a season that included its head coach (Andy Kennedy) resigning in mid-February, didn’t go away easily. The Rebels’ Deovante Shuler tried cutting the lead to two, but his layup attempt was swatted by Silva at the 3:21 mark.
Bruce Stevens hit a 3 at the buzzer to cement the final score. Stevens had 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Rebels (12-20).
“They hit a couple of big shots,” said Ole Miss interim coach Tony Madlock. “That’s how the game goes.”
Silva, named the SEC co-defensive player of the year Monday, finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Taking Kotsar’s cue, Silva was a magnet to the rim. He took a career-high 20 free throws, making 13 of them.
“The guards did a really good job of trying to find me, trying to give me the ball,” Silva said. “I was trying to finish.”
Kotsar scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half. The Gamecocks went the final 4:35 of the opening period without a field goal, allowing Ole Miss to cut their advantage to two.
The win avenged a loss to the Rebels from Dec. 31. Thursday’s game is a rematch from an 81-65 Arkansas victory on Feb. 6.
“We’ll play more to our identity,” Martin said. “I hope it’s good enough. I think our guys will play a lot better, especially defensively.”