It wasn’t a gamble. The kid was recruited for a reason.
OK, it was a little bit of a gamble, considering he’d played in less than half the season’s games, and then for only five minutes per. But it wasn’t so much rolling the dice as it was Frank Martin looking at something that hadn’t worked for 37 minutes and figuring it may work in the last three. He had nothing to lose.
So Jamall Gregory made South Carolina win.
The freshman’s take-off one-handed dunk spurred the No. 24 Gamecocks to a comeback overtime win at Ole Miss on Tuesday, an acrobatic intimidation that knocked the Rebels on their heels. Already reeling from an injury to top player Stefan Moody, Ole Miss never got back together after Gregory checked in, saw an open lane from the left wing and decided Marcanvis Hymon wasn’t that big.
“It was just a regular play,” the 6-foot-2 Gregory said. “Coach was telling me to attack the rim when I got in, and that’s what I did, to spark the offense and get us going.”
Gregory’s jam over Hymon had announcers swooning and the Gamecocks’ bench jumping. They all knew he could dunk with the best of them, but his minutes had been limited with so many guards in front of him.
But P.J. Dozier and Marcus Stroman were in foul trouble or not playing well, and Sindarius Thornwell was locked into a lousy offensive night. Martin, at the end of his rope and his bench, told Gregory to get in there and do something.
Something was done.
“It’s amazing,” said Michael Carrera, who handled most of the heroics in overtime as the Gamecocks rallied. “We needed that from the bench. I’m glad that he stepped up and did what coach taught him to do.”
Gregory logged a career-high 18 minutes, restoring energy and hope to a squad that had been nearly taken apart by Moody. He scored four points, adding two free throws in overtime, and snared five rebounds – all defensive.
“Every shot that went up, I had to go try to get the rebound,” he said. “I had to go get over Mike. Usually, every rebound’s his. So I had to fight with him down there.”
The Gamecocks matched their SEC road win high of the last seven seasons and naturally, Gregory was asked if he’d get more minutes as USC attempts to get a third road win on Saturday at Tennessee.
The Volunteers (9-9, 2-4 SEC) are led by their guards, particularly Kevin Punter, who ranks behind Moody in the SEC’s scoring list. The Gamecocks could use an athletic speedster who can jump to the moon.
Gregory wouldn’t bite.
“Not really. I still have to come in and work every day,” he said. “Nothing’s going to be handed to me. I just played a good game.”
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState
NO. 24 SOUTH CAROLINA (17-1, 4-1 SEC) at TENNESSEE (9-9, 2-4)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (7.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (12.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Tennessee’s probable starters: G Robert Hubbs 6-4 Jr. (12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Devon Baulkman 6-4 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Kevin Punter 6-2 Sr. (22.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Admiral Schofield 6-5 Fr. (6.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Armani Moore 6-4 Sr. (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks host Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.