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Gamecocks earn first SEC win

South Carolina finally put together 40 minutes of good basketball and came away with its first victory in the Southeastern Conference defeating Alabama 56-54 at the Colonial Life Arena. Sophomore Bruce Ellington’s right-handed floater rattled in with 1.3 seconds left to get the Gamecocks (9-10, 1-4) into the win column in conference play.

Sophomore Bruce Ellington drives the lane and hits the game-winning shot with 1.3 seconds remaining in South Carolina's 56-54 win over Alabama.

South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn called for a timeout with 5 seconds remaining after the Crimson Tide (13-6, 2-4) gave its last team foul before the bonus. He drew up a play to get Ellington the ball and gave him the option to take a jumper or drive the lane.

“We just wanted him to go make a play and trust he would make the right play,” Horn said. “If he didn’t, he didn’t. But we trusted him.

The lane opened, Ellington attacked, and he came through in the clutch.

Forward JaMychal Green got off a turnaround jumper from just inside the three-point arc before the clock expired but it clanged off the bottom of the rim and as the Gamecocks exploded off the bench to celebrate a win over an NCAA Tournament-type team.

“We made some progress, we did some good things,” Horn said. “We need to keep getting better but we’re glad to get the win.”

South Carolina shot 37.5 percent in the second half and forced 15 total turnovers by Alabama.

The signs that it may be a rough night began in the opening minutes of the game. The Gamecocks won the opening tip and freshman Damien Leonard, making the start, drove and missed a wide open layup. Moments later, freshman Anthony Gill had his shot blocked three straight times.

Despite a couple of rough early possessions, the Gamecocks hung in with the best defensive team in the conference. Senior Malik Cookescored the first eight points for the Gamecocks and later, Ellington began to heat up.

“I think our guys have continued to compete, played really hard, and gives good effort,” Horn said. “It’s a team that’s very likeable and hopefully people will get behind. It makes a difference.”

The Gamecocks hung in early due in large part to its defense. South Carolina forced nine turnovers in the first half and held the Crimson Tide to 11-of-27 shooting, including 2-of-9 from behind the three-point line.

South Carolina couldn’t find the bottom of the ne though. Despite Ellington and Cooke dropping 10 points apiece in the first half, the Gamecocks were 10-of-36 from the floor and 3-of-16 from behind the arc.

After trailing by two points at halftime, the Gamecocks came out on a bit of a run. The home side built a six-point lead, but the Crimson Tide came roaring back at the midway point in the second half.

“With the situation our guys were in, the confidence level, getting off to a good start was important,” Horn said. “That sounds pretty simple, but we have to do that. We went into the locker room, talked a few minutes, and got back out there.”

Forward Tony Mitchell, with JaMychal Green on the bench with an ankle injury, started to come to life. His one-hand tomahawk slam and tip-in on the following possession tied the score at 46 with just over six minutes left in the half.

After the Gamecocks took a 50-48 lead, the crowd was really starting to get into the game. Horn turned to the crowd, puffed out his chest, waved the fans to their feet screaming, ‘Let’s go!’ at the top of his lungs.

“We had to give ourselves a chance in the last five minutes, which is really something we haven’t done,” Horn said.

The crowd, and his team, responded with plenty of intensity down the stretch. South Carolina took a two-point lead on a pair of occasions but found itself in a tie ball game at 54 apiece with the ball and 55.4 seconds left in the game.

The teams traded possessions without points before Ellington drove the lane and finished with his left hand with 1.3 seconds on the clock. It was his first bucket of the second half, but it was the biggest basket of the game.

“We were playing to win it,” Horn said. “We weren’t playing to do good or come close, we were playing to win.”

Ellington finished with 12 points on the night, which was just behind Cooke’s game-high 18 points. Guard Levi Randolph led Alabama with 12 points on the night. Mitchell finished the game with 11 in a losing effort.

South Carolina returns to action on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Ole Miss. The game will be televised on FSN.

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