David Cloninger

Cloninger: As long as it’s a W, call it what you want

Michael Carrera came up big in another crucial moment Tuesday night.
Michael Carrera came up big in another crucial moment Tuesday night. AP

I love the term, “stole one.” It sounds like a backhanded compliment but it really describes some games, especially what happened at Ole Miss on Tuesday.

But no matter how you say it – with a derisive snort, by mentioning the Rebels lost it a whole lot more than the opponent won it, by truthfully pointing out the game turned when a phantom sniper hit Stefan Moody’s hamstring with four minutes to go – the Gamecocks won. They won that game, in a place where they never win, after playing pretty wretched throughout.

And when it comes time for others to talk about resumes in March, they sure ain’t gonna see an asterisk beside the win with “stole one” beside it. They’ll just see the win.

Plenty of reasons why the tag fits. Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks’ most talented player, was 1-of-15 for five points. As we all know from our reading, anybody, even your kid sister, can shoot better than 1-of-15 over 41 minutes.

P.J. Dozier continues to be on estranged terms with his game. He has nine assists and 23 turnovers in six games. He turned so many opportunities into Rebel points that he was benched for Marcus Stroman to start the second half, and then Stroman had to take a seat with foul trouble.

The Gamecocks still fall for every head fake on the perimeter. They are rotten from the free-throw line (another 10 points left there Tuesday). Like at Alabama, another guy who doesn’t shoot 3s made 3s (Anthony Perez had seven all year but hit four in the first half).

But USC won. It won. It won by getting contributions from guys that had to do it with the usuals not doing much.

Laimonas Chatkevicius had 17 points with 10 boards, his first monster game since he was making a habit of them way back in November. Michael Carrera, the heart and soul of this squad, scored 19 after taking the first half off with foul trouble, including USC’s final five points. Duane Notice, also in foul trouble early, had 14 and stroked a huge 3-pointer in overtime. Mindaugas Kacinas again tightened his hard hat for 10 points, seven rebounds and no fouls.

And in what could be the biggest difference between this and last year, an exasperated Frank Martin went to the bench he didn’t have last season and put in a freshman who had struggled to get on the floor. It’s not that Jamall Gregory wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do in practice; it was he had too many guys in front of him.

Perhaps not anymore. The freshman, known for his pogo legs, challenged Thornwell for dunk of the year when he started the rally in regulation. He had two big free throws, he poked a ball loose on a dribble-drive and somehow, he wormed his 6-foot-2 self over the court for five rebounds, all defensive.

It’s always been Martin’s mantra for his team to play the game in four-minute segments. Win a few of those, keep the game close and find a way to take that final one. The Gamecocks finally have the depth, talent and will to do that, and they’re showing it.

They’re finding ways to win. When it again appeared that the season was teetering on the brink of “Here we go again,” again I was looking in the media guide to find “the last time they did … “ stats. Every game is becoming one of those for USC, which says a lot about what this season is becoming and what it’s been for the majority of the past 25 years.

Seventeen wins. Four in league. Thirteen to go. Really good odds the Gamecocks can finish this with the only statistic that matters – getting an invitation to dine at that 68-team banquet in March.

Stole one?

Won one.

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState