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Downey has SEC coaches searching for answers

University of South Carolina's Devan Downey celebrates making a basket and drawing a foul against Georgia in the first period at the Colonial Life Arena.
University of South Carolina's Devan Downey celebrates making a basket and drawing a foul against Georgia in the first period at the Colonial Life Arena.

Devan Downey's scoring output has been equaled only by the ways the opposition has tried to stop him - at least according to a teammate.

"I've seen everything. I've seen probably 30 different defenses," South Carolina senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross said. "I've seen teams try to put a taller guy on him, try to run two at him."

And yet, Downey is still on an incredible tear, scoring 30 or more points in five of seven SEC games entering tonight's game at Tennessee.

The run has created national buzz for Downey. For opposing coaches, it has brought more headaches and a classic dilemma:

When a player scores no matter what you do, do you still focus on him? Or do you assume he will get his points and focus on preventing his supporting cast from beating you?

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will be the latest to try and figure that out.

"It does play a dilemma, and I've taken both approaches," Pearl said. "I think you've still got to make his looks difficult. And obviously if it's close late, and it will be, you know where they're going. It presents great challenges."

The data suggests the answer lies in stopping Downey's teammates.

USC has played 15 games since losing both Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, leaving Downey as the team's best scoring option. Downey's scoring average differs little between the wins and losses: 24.0 in the eight wins, 24.3 in the seven losses.

But his teammates have combined to average 52.5 points in the eight wins - and 42.0 in the seven losses.

The same goes for the three SEC losses: Downey's teammates are averaging 32 points, 10 points lower than in the four wins.

The impetus is usually on two other Gamecocks: Raley-Ross and junior center Sam Muldrow.

Lost in Downey's huge effort in the upset of then-No. 1 Kentucky was Raley-Ross' 17 points. The sharp-shooting guard had struggled in the three previous losses, averaging six points.

Muldrow, whose play has been up and down, had a season-high 19 in last week's victory against Georgia.

Raley-Ross knows the importance of his and other teammates' roles.

"It's big," Raley-Ross said. "Two guys are gonna have to step up and make some big shots. I don't want (Downey) to, but if he does have a game where he's not making the shots that he's been making, and he's not putting up those high numbers, we're gonna need other guys to step in and score those points."

Tennessee has done a reasonable job of stopping Downey. His career-low of two points came against the Volunteers in 2008. He is averaging 17.4 points in five games against the Vols. Only LSU and Mississippi State have done a better job of defending Downey.

Most importantly, Tennessee is the one of only two SEC teams Downey has never beaten. The other is Mississippi State.

Part of that is the fact Tennessee always has had height and an ability to clog the lane diminishes Downey's drives. But the 5-foot-9 point guard has increasingly scored against any kind of defense this year.

"We've seen pretty much everything already," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said. "We saw a little bit of junk on Saturday (by Georgia). We've seen face-guarding him. We've seen (opponents) make somebody else bring the ball up the floor. We've seen once he gets it up try not to let him get (the ball) back. So I don't know that we could see anything new or something we're not particularly prepared for."

But Horn added that it still comes down to his team doing everything, especially defense and rebounding. And Raley-Ross sounded almost defiant.

"We're just gonna keep playing basketball," he said. "Coach has been preparing us well. We're not gonna let one team take one guy out."

Downey named Cousy finalist.

USC's Devan Downey was named one of the 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to college basketball's top point guard. The other finalists are Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin, Kansas' Sherron Collins, Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes, Harvard's Jeremy Lin, Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, Siena's Ronald Moore, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, Duke's Jon Scheyer, Maryland's Greivis Vasquez and Kentucky's John Wall.

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