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February 15, 2014

Gamecocks survive Alabama, 67-66





Sindarius Thornwell and South Carolina's basketball team couldn't let USC's baseball team soak up all the excitement.

The Gamecocks earned their second-straight victory in dramatic fashion, putting away Alabama 67-66 in the final seconds at Colonial Life Arena.

South Carolina (3-9, 10-15) watched a 12-point lead slip away as the Crimson Tide (3-8, 10-15) mounted a comeback in the second half, but used an 11-3 run in the final 3 1/2 minutes to secure two consecutive SEC victories for the first time since Jan. 2011.

"Real proud of our guys," said head coach Frank Martin. "We were on fumes, and every timeout coming down the stretch, it was not a lot of strategy. It was about challenging guys to not give in to the fatigue and to a difficult moment, and they responded like champs."

South Carolina outmuscled the Crimson Tide in a physical first half, stifling Alabama shooters to 5-20 from the field. Thornwell and freshman guard Jaylen Shaw nearly outscored the Crimson Tide by themselves, combining for 17 points to help the Gamecocks take a 28-19 lead at the break.

The Gamecocks continued to pile it on early in the second half, tying their largest lead of the night when Michael Carrera sank two free throws to go ahead 39-27 with 16:20 left to play. But Alabama began to hack away at the lead from there, driving the lane and getting to the line at will until Trevor Releford tied the game at 54-54 with a 3-pointer with 5:31 remaining. Alabama appeared to have the game in hand when it drained back-to-back 3-pointers to go ahead 60-56 with just under 4 minutes left, but South Carolina had other thoughts in mind.

Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas each notched a crucial bucket down the stretch, and Thornwell scored seven points in the final 2:15, including two free throws with 5 seconds remaining to put the Gamecocks ahead 67-63. Releford buried a contested three from the wing as time expired, but it was too little, too late for the Crimson Tide.

"What makes me proudest is that we've been in this moment a lot this year, and in earlier games and SEC play where we've had leads and we've given up the lead, we haven't folded, but we haven't made the play to help us stop the bleeding and go win the game," Martin said. "Today we were in control of this game the whole game, and then all of a sudden we got down four, and our guys buckled in and made every play coming down the stretch. It's fun to see that from a bunch of young kids."

Thornwell said finding that extra resolve at the end of the game will help South Carolina in the future.

"Like the last few games that we blew leads, today, we blew the lead, but we didn't give up," Thornwell said. "We continued to execute and play defense, so that will help us."

Martin said he doesn't normally place an emphasis on winning or losing any individual game, but that he stressed before Saturday's game the opportunity the Gamecocks had in front of them.

"I haven't spoken to our team about winning a game in a while," Martin said, "and after the last game, what I told our guys, I said 'they haven't won two consecutive league games around here in a while. Let's go do something else that's a first in a while.' And I'm proud of them, proud of the fact that we didn't - I'm telling you, we're on fumes.

"We were real good in practice yesterday from an attention standpoint. I thought we really tried to do the right things today. We just didn't have that bounce in our step. But we fought."

For Thornwell, who finished with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, just winning two games in a row is a step in the right direction.

"It feels good," Thornwell said. "The last game we won, coach mentioned that, and we were big on that. Before the game, we like 'come on, let's win two.' Now we're saying, 'let's win three' because we've got more confidence in ourselves. We want to win the next one too and so on and so forth.

"It helped us a lot to break the streak. We're just going to try to build off of it, and hopefully win some more."



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