So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance?
Don’t look now, South Carolina fans, but the Gamecocks have won 2 in a row. Carolina played a pair of must-win games against a bad UGA team and an Ole Miss team that is pretty much on the same level as the Gamecocks (granted, that level means that Mississippi isn’t very good, but I will touch on that a bit more later), and they took care of business. USC picked up their 12th straight win in the all-time series with the Bulldogs 80-68 Saturday afternoon at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, and just last night, they picked up their 3rd win out of the 16 times they have trekked down to Oxford, stunning Ole Miss in exciting fashion 77-74 in overtime.
First, let’s dive into the Georgia game. Don’t let that final score fool you. While in the end the Gamecocks won convincingly, as they very well were supposed to, it wasn’t a dominant effort from the beginning. In similar fashion to their first meeting this season back on January 22nd, South Carolina got behind the eight ball early. In that first meeting, Georgia went 20-21 from the freethrow line in the first half and held a double digit advantage going to the locker room. USC used a big 24-0 run in the 2nd half to come back and win it. This time, Carolina struggled with turnovers (6 of them that led to 7 points for the Dogs) and shooting over the first 10 minutes of the game while Georgia shot 56% over that time span, building a lead as large as 8. The difference was that this time, it did not take the Gamecocks until the halfway point of the second half to get in a rhythm and go on a run.
South Carolina went on a 20-0 run over a nearly five minute span and would take a 42-38 lead to the half. UGA came out swinging early in the second half, reclaiming a short-lived one point lead with a 7-2 run. The Gamecocks took over from there and never looked back, running away with a 12 point victory. Keyshawn Bryant stepped up bigtime for Carolina, leading the way with 22 points and 6 rebounds, marking his second consecutive game with 18 or more points. Devin Carter was close behind him with 21 points, going 8 of 13 from the field. Carolina held the Dawgs to just 9 for 27 from the field and 3 for 11 from three point range in the second half and won the battle on the boards. USC tallied 29 offensive rebounds for eighteen 2nd chance points.
Short summary – South Carolina struggled, but as we keep coming back to, the keys to success for this team are that they are best when Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Couisnard are on it, and they thrive when someone steps up. Jermaine was fairly quiet, tallying just 8 points and 2 rebounds, but he led the team in assists with 7, many of which resulted in baskets by Keyshawn. Devin Carter also stepped up. They found a way to do what they were supposed to and got a much-needed win in a must-win game.
Last night, everything came together nicely for Carolina again. Ole Miss, though a decent shooting team, was sub .500, standing at 12-13 (3-11 in the SEC) and had lost 3 in a row. Conditions were right for USC to have another confidence-boosting win in a game they had to have, even if they did historically struggle in Oxford.
The first half was low-scoring and plagued with turnovers, with each team coughing up the rock 11 times. South Carolina had several streaks in the early going, building up an advantage as large as 5 points and then letting Ole Miss close the gap with streaks of their own off Carolina’s turnovers. Mississippi took the lead right before the half with a three to make it 29-28. In the second half, it was nothing short of a war of attrition.
The Rebels led for almost the entirety of the second half with South Carolina fighting their hardest just to keep the game in reach. The Gamecocks finally did manage to step up big time late. Carolina struggled mightily from behind the arch all game long, having been just 1 for 6 from distance in the first half. The 2nd half did not fare much better, with South Carolina mustering just 4 made threes in 9 attempts. Those 4 makes, however, were clutch and really helped get Carolina in position to at least send the game to overtime.
Keyshawn Bryant drained a three to pull South Carolina to within a point and then Erik Stevenson stepped up and nailed 2 huge treys in the final 2 and a half minutes of the game. One of them to tie the game at 65 and the other to give the Gamecocks a 68-66 lead with just 25 seconds to play. Here’s where things took a turn. Devin Carter missed on a 1 and 1 from the line and gave the ball back to the Rebels with :08 on the clock and the Gamecocks clinging to a 2 point lead. Ole Miss called a timeout, and Frank Martin pulled a Frank Martin. He subbed out all of Carolina’s big guys except for Keyshawn Bryant, who he left in to cover a 7 footer in Jarkel Joiner, who was one of the Rebels leading scorers with 18 points. That went about how you’d expect. Keyshawn got beat for a game tying layup and the game went to overtime. Not the best decision Frank has ever made and we will leave it at that.
The good news is that Frank’s overthinking and outcoaching himself did not come back to haunt the Gamecocks and they were able to fight their way to a win in spite of him. South Carolina and Ole Miss traded baskets for the first 2 minutes of overtime and then both went cold until the final minute and a half. Devin Carter gave the Gamecocks a short lived lead on a layup before the Rebs tied it with a pair of free throws. Both squads missed a three on their ensuing possession, but South Carolina came up with a big defensive rebound with mere seconds to play and took a timeout. Jermaine Couisnard took his time and squeaked the inbounds pass to James Reese at half court who had just enough time to lift and put up a half court shot to beat the buzzer. He banked it in perfectly squared off the back glass as time expired to give the Gamecocks a thrilling hard-fought win.
Don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled to the point I fell out of my chair when I saw that ball go in. I love a good last-second win. Who doesn’t? But, I could not help but remind myself of this. The Gamecocks had to squeak out a win over a bad team in a must-win game. Not only that, but they had to do it with a bit of luck. Those half court game winners are a rarity. That isn’t to say it wasn’t an impressive feat that required some skill. James Reese did an excellent job of getting enough muscle and touch on it to square it off the backboard. But a make on a high pressure contested shot like that is still rare. They also had to do it in spite of bad coaching.
What last night showed us was a picture of what happens when two equally struggling teams duke it out as well as another example of how South Carolina can win despite Frank Martin. It was another example of how when Keyshawn Bryant and/or Jermaine Couisnard are on it and someone else steps up (like Reese and Stevenson in the clutch last night, or Devin Carter who had another double digit performance in a double-double last night with 16 points and 11 rebounds), this team is at its best. Bryant had 16 points and 7 assists last night, by the way while Jermaine logged 8 points.
Anyway, the Gamecocks have won 2 in a row. Not in the prettiest of fashion and not against opponents remotely close to being quad 1. But, they have done what they needed to. The objective from here is simple. The Gamecocks still have their future in their hands. They still have what they can make of the rest of the season in their own hands. Best yet, after last night, they re-upped themselves into possibly being able to squeak into the NIT, which given how this season has gone, though it is not what we should be hoping for, would still be good for the program. It all hinges on what they do from here.
A win like last night can really help spark a team. But, the schedule takes a huge upswing now. South Carolina faces LSU Saturday at 3:30 at CLA. Then they host that hot-shooting Mississippi State that gave them fits in their last meeting Wednesday at 6:30 (both of those games will be televised on SEC Network). They wrap up the regular season with Alabama (who despite a snag lately is still a very good team), a winnable game with Mizzou, and then the former #1 Auburn Tigers. If the Gamecocks can beat LSU or upset someone and they beat Mizzou, they could still backdoor into the NIT. But they cannot afford to go on a skid. The ball is literally in their court. Let’s buckle up and see if they can continue to find a way.