Bruce Ellington was recruited for moments like this.
USC could not shake loose of Clemson in the final six minutes of Sunday’s men’s basketball game.
Then Ellington — the freshman guard with wide receiver speed and veteran nerves — took over.
He scored six points on a jumper, a 3-pointer and a free throw in the final two minutes to keep the Tigers at bay. His rebound of a missed Clemson 3-pointer and game of a keep-away in the final eight seconds sealed the 64-60 win at Colonial Life Arena.
The 5-foot-9 Moncks Corner native celebrated USC’s ending its six-game losing streak in the series by throwing the ball into the air as the final buzzer sounded.
“Six in a row — that’s not a rivalry,” USC coach Darrin Horn said. “That’s a pounding, and we needed to stop that.”
Ellington, the team’s leading scorer, has done this before. On the road against Western Kentucky last month, he made two 3-pointers in the final 37 seconds to send the game into overtime and hit another trey to seal the Gamecocks’ win in double overtime.
“That’s just a player who’s got a little something special,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “That turns programs.”
Against Clemson (5-3), Horn said he wanted to keep the ball in the hands of Ellington to spread the floor and put him into position to make shots. Ellington led four Gamecocks in double figures with 14 points.
“It was the end of the game, and we didn’t want Clemson to beat us, so we got together and made big plays,” the Ellington said.
Horn said forward Sam Muldrow, the longest-tenured Gamecock player, was the difference. The team’s big man scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked five shots. Muldrow scored six of USC’s final 12 points, including four free throws.
“He played like a senior should in a rivalry game,” Horn said.
Both teams shot poorly much of the second half. USC missed several open layups, days after Horn said the team needed to make more easy shots. Guard Ramon Galloway missed a dunk and received a technical for hanging on the rim.
“There were times we moved the ball better and got the shots we wanted, and they just didn’t go down,” Horn said. “They did a good job pressuring us in the half-court. That threw our timing off a little bit. I think we stopped and got stagnant.”
But Clemson shot worse in the second half, 32 percent to USC’s 41 percent.
Clemson entered the game on a cold streak. The Tigers were shooting 35 percent in their past three games after hitting more than half their baskets in their first four contests.
Clemson committed 16 turnovers, with 11 coming in the second half. Some mistakes resulted from miscommunication, Brownell said: “It’s like having 12 freshmen now.”
Clemson guard Andre Young led all scorers with 15, while guard Demontez Stitt added 13.
The Tigers became the sixth of seven USC opponents this season to shoot 40 percent or less from the field. Clemson shot 19 percent from the 3-point.
“We’re having trouble finishing plays,” Brownell said.
Percentages: FG .386, FT .722. 3-Point Goals: 3-16, .188 (Young 2-6, Stitt 1-4, Narcisse 0-1, Stanton 0-1, Booker 0-1, Jennings 0-1, Smith 0-2). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 1 (Stitt). Turnovers: 16 (Grant 4, Young 4, Stitt 3, Booker 2, Smith 2, Narcisse). Steals: 6 (Young 2, Jennings 2, Grant, Stitt). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .463, FT .533. 3-Point Goals: 6-13, .462 (Ellington 3-3, Richardson 2-5, Muldrow 1-2, Galloway 0-3). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 6 (Muldrow 5, Jefferson). Turnovers: 12 (Ellington 6, Jackson 3, Muldrow, Spinella, Galloway). Steals: 10 (Cooke 4, Jackson 3, Harris, Jefferson, Muldrow). Technical Fouls: Galloway.
Att.–10,177. Officials–Tony Greene, Joe Lindsay, Pat Adams.
Darrin Horn postgame
Bruce Ellington, Sam Muldrow postgame