South Carolina picked up a somewhat shocking victory over Ole Miss this evening. Although the Gamecocks led for good chunks of this game, the Rebels looked like they were pulling away when they went on a 13-2 run late in the second half and held a 62-56 lead with five minutes to go. Ole Miss wouldn't score again, though, and the Gamecocks would win the game 63-62 on Eric Smith's three pointer with 25 seconds left. The Gamecocks sealed the win defensively on Lakeem Jackson's block of Nick Williams's jumper and Laimonas Chatkevicius's block of Marshall Henderson's desperation three during Ole Miss's final possession.
Coach Martin and his team deserve some credit for tonight. Just a week ago, Martin was unloading on his team after it was trounced by LSU in a lackluster effort. Today, Martin has reason to be happy after his fought hard down the stretch. The season is largely academic at this point, but clearly, the team played with a little more motivation today than it's had in recent games. That may be because Martin made some personnel changes tonight, in particular not playing Damien Leonard. Leonard seems to have checked out, which may indicate that he knows he won't be asked to return next year. In any event, while Brenton Williams and Brian Richardson both have their flaws, they've been more consistent than Leonard this year, and both seem to show a little bit more drive. I hope to see more of this lineup in the backcourt for the rest of the season.
Smith, by the way, had an excellent game. He's another player who I've wondered about--it's not clear to me why Martin would bring him back next year, with Tyrone Johnson coming in and Bruce Ellington likely still on the team. However, Smith has elevated his game since last year, and whereas Leonard seems to have quit on the team, Smith may be working to maintain his spot. Good for him, if so. Maybe there's a place for him, after all.
This loss, by the way, is a disaster for Ole Miss. The Rebels have struggled in recent weeks, losing what once seemed like a fairly substantial footing in the NCAA field. A loss to lowly South Carolina won't be looked upon favorably by the selection committee, and Ole Miss now has almost no margin for error.
As for Carolina, the ship has likely sailed on postseason play, barring a miracle winning streak to close out the season. However, there are some winnable games left, and USC got back to .500 with this win. Finishing with a non-losing record would be a nice accomplishment for this team. For now, we can be satisfied with the fact that it has exceeded last year's conference win total.