Feb. 15, 2014
COLUMBIA, S.C. – For the second time in three days, South Carolina (10-15, 3-9 SEC) came away with a conference win, topping Alabama (10-15, 4-8 SEC), 67-66, with key plays down the stretch this evening at Colonial Life Arena. The back-to-back SEC wins were the first for Carolina since January 2011, when the team defeated Florida by three on the road and Arkansas in double overtime at home.
Freshman Sindarius Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Williams added 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Senior guard Trevor Releford scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Crimson Tide after only scoring two in the first half.
In a back and forth opening 10 minutes, that saw plenty of defensive pressure that resulted in seven total blocks, freshman guard Jaylen Shaw came off of the bench and connected from beyond the arc at the 9:41 to give the Gamecocks a 12-11 lead. Thornwell followed that with a runner to push the lead to three.
After a layup from Alabama’s Nick Jacobs, Shaw hit his second 3-pointer of the half to ignite a 7-0 spurt to give the Gamecocks a 21-13 advantage with under five minutes to play in the half.
With 1:23 left, Thornwell increased his first-half total to nine with a 3 from the top of the key. Eleven seconds later, Thornwell found sophomore forward Brian Steele on the backdoor for a layup to close the half with a 28-19 lead.
The Gamecocks held the Crimson Tide to 25 percent (5-20) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, as they in turn shot 44 percent (11-25). The 19 first-half points is the least allowed for the Gamecocks since the opener this season.
Despite Releford converting on an and-one to start the, Carolina responded by out-scoring the Alabama 11-5 over the next three-plus minutes. Williams scored poured in five points in the spurt on back-to-back field goals. The stretch pushed the lead to 12 with 16:20 on the clock.
A 3-pointer for Alabama from Levi Randolph in the corner with the shot clock expiring brought the Gamecocks’ lead back under double-digits.
The Crimson Tide continued to close the gap, bringing it within three with an 8-1 run after getting 3s from Randolph and Releford. Sophomore forward Laimonas Chatkevicius ended the run with a jumper in the lane after being fouled, but he was unable to convert on the free throw attempt.
Over the following minutes, Alabama closed its deficit to one and kept it there after going from 6-of-6 from the foul line during a minute stretch.
A full court pass from Thornwell to sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas for an open layup increased the lead to three, but a 3 from Releford at the top of key tied up the game. That 3-pointer started a stretch of three-straight 3s from the Crimson tied as they took a 60-56 lead with just under four minutes remaining.
A back-door lob from Thornwell to sophomore forward Michael Carrera then brought the deficit to two. On the ensuing possession Releford went left and drove to the basket, but Carrera slid in and took the charge as the senior guard picked up his fourth foul with three minutes to go.
Thornwell tied it up a minute later with a floater in the lane, but Releford scored on a layup on the following possession after drawing a foul, but the guard was unable to convert the attempt.
Alabama drove hard to basket with just over a minute remaining, but Carrera and Kacinas converged to come up with a key block. Thornwell took the ball the length of the court, beat his defender, and dropped in a runner to give the Gamecocks a 63-62 lead with one-minute showing on the clock.
On the other end, Alabama guard Rodney Cooper, who had gone 4-of-4 from the line on the day, was fouled. The junior missed the first, but hit the second to level the game. On Carolina’s ensuing possession, Carrera backed himself into the paint, put up a hook shot that appeared to be headed in, but bounced out at the last second. Kacinas, though, out-jumped the Alabama defenders surrounding him and tipped in the miss.
Down two and with the ball in front of its bench, the Tide found Releford at the top of the key on the inbound pass. The senior rose up and let the attempt go, but the ball got stuck between the rim and backboard. The possession arrow was in favor of the Gamecocks.
With 5.8 seconds on the clock, Thornwell was sent to the foul line. The freshman sank the first and rimmed in the second to extend the lead to four. Releford hit his fourth 3 of the game at the buzzer, but it wasn’t enough as Carolina came away with the victory, 67-66.
South Carolina went 23-of-47 (48.9 percent) from the field, while Alabama was 18-of-43 (41.9 percent). The Gamecocks dominated the paint doubling the Crimson Tide’s total, 32-16, as well as holding a 15-6 edge in fast break points.
Despite only scoring four points, and fouling out late in the game, freshman guard Duane Notice led the team six assists. Carrera led the Gamecocks on the glass with seven rebounds to go with eight points. For Thornwell, the 22 points on the day was his fifth game in SEC play in which he has scored 20 points or more, tying South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer B.J. McKie’s mark during his freshman season.
The Gamecocks will hit the road this week as the travel to Arkansas for a clash with the Razorbacks on Wednesday night. Tipoff is schedule for 9 p.m. ET, and will broadcast on CSS.