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January 27, 2012
South Carolina had every reason in the world to jump around and act like crazy men after Wednesday's 56-54 buzzer-beating win over Alabama. After four straight games where the Gamecocks had struggled to put a complete game together, they accomplished it against the Crimson Tide and got their first SEC win.
So now what?
Now the Gamecocks (9-10, 1-4 SEC) come back to earth. Now they have to forget about the excitement of Bruce Ellington's fearless drive and winning layup and start concentrating on another road trip. Now, as hard as it may be, they have to disregard the win and start thinking of a way to get another one.
Tough? They say not.
"We just want to go ahead and forget about this, forget about this win right now and get back to work tomorrow, focus on Ole Miss," high scorer Malik Cooke said. "Try to go in there and compete and win that game, too."
It's necessary because of the situation. At 1-4, nobody's grooming the Gamecocks for a late run at the postseason. Not that it couldn't happen, but considering games with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Mississippi State still dot the schedule, it's a tough hurdle. USC celebrates this even a bit too long, the Rebels may take advantage of their home court on Saturday and send the Gamecocks right back to the loss column.
But the chance to build on the win with another is clearly there. Ole Miss has been struggling as well, after it came into the year with aspirations of an NCAA tournament run. After kicking top scorer Dundrecous Nelson off the team following a drug-related arrest and facing on-again off-again injuries from Rebel-turned-Gamecock-turned-Rebel Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss is 3-3 in the SEC.
The Gamecocks expectedly lost their first three SEC games and unexpectedly lost their fourth, at Auburn. But not many expected Alabama to be a win, or for the Crimson Tide to have lost four straight at this point, but that's the situation. USC took a game to cover the Auburn loss and can keep going toward that key two-win mark over the first eight games of the SEC schedule, before it considerably lightens.
It's about re-capturing that intensity that USC showed on Wednesday and re-presenting it, first to the Rebels, then to each opponent on the rest of the schedule. The Gamecocks refused to lose on Wednesday, diving for loose balls, playing tight defense and crashing the boards when it became apparent they were on their way to another lousy shooting night.
All coach Darrin Horn wanted was to get to the final five minutes of the game with a chance to win. When USC did that, he saw his team answer every time that Alabama came back to tie the game.
"I couldn't be prouder of our guys," Horn said. "Obviously, we have been through a lot. We have been through a really tough stretch here to start SEC play."
It was, but as one staffer said before Wednesday's game, the Gamecocks' confidence wasn't hurt. It was discouraging after the losses, but USC came to the next practices with stiff lips and belief that the win was going to be there.
It finally happened. But after four losses, there's no threat of over-confidence. Just a brief moment of feeling very good, then back to the grind.
"Just happy to get that monkey off our back," Cooke said. "We've been working really hard and it paid off."
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