In a tightly contested defensive battle, Carolina finally found a way to win an SEC game, doing so in dramatic fashion after Bruce Ellington hit a lay-in with around a second to go. Alabama wasn't able to respond with a miracle, and Carolina will, for one night at least, be able to feel pretty good about itself.
Outside of Bruce's clutch shot, there were a couple of things I really liked about this game. First of all, we finally got some production out of our front line. Malik Cooke led all scorers with 18 points, while Damontre Harris, after a poor first half, finished with 11. Anthony Gill and R.J. Slawson, while poor from the field, both finished with more than 10 boards. Gritty play from the bigs has been something that Carolina has been missing for a while, and it finally got it tonight.
The other thing I loved in this game was, to use the word again, Carolina's grit. Considering how badly we've struggled lately, the Gamecocks could have given up in this game. They didn't; you could really see the intensity in the body language. And they produced. They played great defense all game long, they got after the boards, they won the turnover battle. This was an intense performance from a team with its back to the wall. It wasn't a perfect or even particularly good offensive performance, but they scored the points they needed to stay in the game--no horribly prolonged droughts--and they made the clutch baskets at the end.
The question now is what Carolina does for an encore. I haven't harped on them here because I want to focus on the positives right now, but there was much Carolina could have done better tonight. Will it fix its problems in the future? Occasionally, you see a team that has struggled like Carolina has turn it around mid-season and make a run. The NCAA is probably out of the question for the Gamecocks at this point, but, certainly the NIT is not, and I think we can all agree that the NIT would be an admirable goal for this team. And to tell the truth, this is the kind of team that could make that sort of turn around. This is not a talent-less team. We have leaders in Cooke and Ellington, and we have talented players like Leonard who have the potential to be major contributors. This team can play ball in the SEC. It needs this game to be the catalyst that sends it towards more wins, starting this weekend in Oxford.