The South Carolina men’s basketball team has not had much to smile about lately, having lost seven of its past eight games.
But the Gamecocks traded chest-bumps Tuesday after a hustle play gave them a 14-point lead over Mississippi midway through the second half. And they were all grins as they survived a comeback by the Rebels to win 79-73 at Colonial Life Arena.
A beaming Bruce Ellington reached up and gave Malik Cooke a one-armed neck hug after Cooke stole the ball from Ole Miss point guard Chris Warren with 23 seconds remaining to seal the game.
The win ended the Gamecocks’ four-game home losing streak, their longest since 2000.
“It wasn’t fun,” forward Sam Muldrow said of the team’s recent struggles, which included a five-game losing streak. “So we just had to go out and have fun, and we got the win.”
USC coach Darrin Horn said he summoned all the coaching tools he possesses — “You’re part tactician, you’re part dad, you’re part drill sergeant, you’re psychologist” — to get his team to see past the losses.
“We’ve been despondent,” Horn said. “What came out of (talking before the game) was just that when we keep focused on playing the next play and competing and playing for each other, that’s when we’re at our best. So we talked all about that tonight, when we were down eight early, when we got up 12 and when they tied it up, just keep playing the next play.”
Muldrow, who received a plaque before the game in honor of his setting the school’s all-time blocked-shots record, tied his career high with 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The senior has six double-doubles this season.
Ellington, USC’s leading scorer, was held to six points. But four Gamecocks reached double figures, helped by the team’s near-perfect performance at the free-throw line. The team shot nearly 91 percent, hitting 20 of 22 free throws. Ramon Galloway hit all seven of his attempts, while Cooke went 9-for-10.
Horn said backup point guard Eric Smith was just as crucial to USC’s success as Ellington. Smith helped keep Warren in check after he scored 14 points in the first 10 minutes.
USC’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in regulation in SEC games this season.
The first outburst of smiles came with 12 minutes remaining. Forward Damontre Harris made an acrobatic layup to put USC up by 12. On the inbound play, Galloway stole the ball, Smith leapt to keep the ball from going out of bounds and passed it to Cooke, who was fouled as he went up for a shot.
Cooke chest-bumped his teammates as they laughed, releasing some of the tension that had mounted during the losing streak.
“It was exciting,” Cooke said. “We just wanted to go out and play hard.”
The Gamecocks led by 14 points with six minutes remaining. But USC committed four turnovers and missed five of six shots, allowing the Rebels to tie the game at 73 with 81 seconds to play.
USC held on as Muldrow hit his third 3-pointer and Cooke stole the ball from Warren, who scored a career-high 33 points. Cooke passed the ball to Galloway, who was fouled trying to make a layup. The sophomore sank both free throws to seal the victory.
In the first half, Ole Miss led by eight points at the midway point. But USC grabbed the lead with a 16-2 run punctuated with 3-pointers by Muldrow and Brian Richardson and three free-throws made by Galloway after getting fouled while attempting a 3.
The Rebels failed to score over a four-minute period during the Gamecocks’ run, missing all six shots while the Gamecocks stole the ball three times. USC led 38-34 at half. The Gamecocks have not lost any of the 11 games when it led after 20 minutes this season.
Darrin Horn postgame
USC players postgame
|MISSISSIPPI||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .369, FT .762.
3-Point Goals: 9-27, .333 (Warren 8-15, Henry 1-1, N. Williams 0-1, Gaskins 0-1, Nelson 0-2, Graham 0-7).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Buckner 2, Gaskins, Short).
Turnovers: 15 (N. Williams 3, Short 3, Henry 3, Nelson 2, Warren 2, Buckner, Gaskins).
Steals: 5 (Gaskins, Warren, Buckner, Short, N. Williams).
Technical Fouls: None.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .400, FT .909.
3-Point Goals: 7-22, .318 (Muldrow 3-6, Galloway 2-3, Slawson 1-2, Richardson 1-3, Cooke 0-1, Smith 0-2, Ellington 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Muldrow 4, Harris).
Turnovers: 15 (Ellington 4, Muldrow 4, Smith 2, Galloway 2, Harris, Cooke, Richardson).
Steals: 8 (Cooke 3, Harris 2, Slawson, Galloway, Richardson).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Tony Greene, Ted Valentine, Rick Hartzell.