South Carolina blew a double-digit lead in the second half on Saturday, and likely left some wondering if the team that failed to close out close games against LSU, Ole Miss (twice), and Auburn could turn the corner and find a way to grab a close conference win for the second game in a row, building off Thursday afternoon's 65-59 win over Vanderbilt.
Fortunately for the Gamecocks and their fans, Sindarius Thornwell's ability to play well doesn't disappear in the final five minutes of close basketball games. The freshman from Lancaster scored 9 of his 22 points in the final 5:02, and South Carolina held on to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon, 67-66.
The win moves South Carolina into a tie for 13th place in the SEC with Mississippi State, and gives them their first two-game win streak in SEC play since January 19, 2011, when a team that finished 5-11 in the SEC beat Florida and Arkansas in back-to-back tilts. South Carolina will try for their first three-game SEC win streak since 2009 when it heads to Fayetteville, Arkansas on Wednesday night to take on the Razorbacks at 9pm ET.
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In a one-point game, everything matters. The Gamecocks and Tide played roughly to a draw when it came to extra shots created (through either rebounding or turnovers), as Carolina's one extra offensive rebound was offset by its three additional turnovers. South Carolina did a great job of making the most of the limited opportunities they did get from the line by shooting 80% from the stripe, and ultimately out-shot the Tide from the inside (an area the Gamecocks have seldom found a critical advantage), going 18-34 from 2 against Alabama's 11-28 effort. It was an event effort as every Gamecock with multiple attempts from 2 shot between 33-71% - no one dominated (well, maybe Thornwell) - but no one put up one of those 1-7 shooting performances that can submarine the entire effort.
That even effort showed up in the scoring column, as aside from Thornwell's 22 points, six other Gamecocks scored between 4-10 points. Offense doesn't always require everyone to be productive to succeed, but on this night, when no one aside from Thornwell really went crazy, everyone who played meaningful minutes stepped up and gave a strong performance, putting up almost 1.10 points a possession, just enough to grab the victory.
Each team started slowly on offense as the game hit the halfway mark of the first half with Alabama carrying an 11-9 lead, as both the Gamecocks and Crimson Tide struggled with turnovers early. The Gamecocks took the lead from the Tide, buoyed by two Jaylen Shaw 3s in his 17 minutes of action after two straight DNPs to lead 19-13 with five minutes to go. Carolina extended the lead to 28-19 at the half, finished by Sindarius Thornwell stroking a 3-pointer before finding Brian Steele on a backcourt for a lay-up (assisted by a goaltend) to end the half.
The Gamecocks opened the lead to double-digits on a Thornwell put-back on a missed Laimonas Chatkevicius rebound early in the second half, and the lead remained between 7-12 points until the 10:20 mark, when a Trevor Releford 3 brought the Tide to within 5 points, 46-41.
The Tide finally re-took the lead for the first time in almost 25 game minutes with 4:42 to play, as Shannon Hale drained a 3-pointer to give the Tide a 57-56 lead. Another 3 by Releford extended the advantage to 4, but when it looked like the game might be slipping away from South Carolina, Carrera found a lay-up to cut the lead to two.
From that point on, Sindarius Thorwnell and Trevor Releford traded points to get the score to 63-63, when Mindaugas Kacinas tipped in his own miss with 15 seconds to go to give the Gamecocks an advantage they would never relinquish. After Releford missed a 3, Thornwell added a pair of free throws to ice it with 5 seconds, which made Releford's 3-pointer to end the game ultimately harmless.