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South Carolina 68 Alabama 66: Gamecocks Sneak Away With First SEC Win of The Season

After two losses to open SEC play, if there was ever a mid-January must-win, tonight's game vs. Alabama was one for South Carolina. The Gamecocks got off to a rough start but weathered the storm, took the lead, and didn't look back until the Crimson Tide got it close at the end. South Carolina prevailed, giving them their first conference win of the season.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

After Saturday's loss to Ole Miss, head coach Frank Martin was adamant that his team's problem wasn't physical and that it was a mental issue for his young team. The 3rd-year Gamecock head man hoped his team would come out Tuesday against Alabama with enthusiasm and discipline.

South Carolina definietly did not start like their head coach wanted, but they finished the first half, and the game in a pleasant enough manner.

The Crimson Tide opened up the game with a 9-0 lead. Heading into the media timeout, the Gamecocks were down 7-0, had shot 0-of-6 from the field, and had made several uncharacteristic mistakes on defense. Anthony Grant's Alabama offense used several backdoor cuts to get early buckets against South Carolina's aggressive, but surprisingly sleepy, play on the defensive end early on. Offensively, the Gamecocks were getting high-percentage looks, shots around the basket and in the paint, that simply weren't falling. Sophomore forward Demetrius Henry tallied the first South Carolina points exactly five minutes into the game.

After the under-16 media timeout, the game changed. After a pair of Alabama free throws, South Carolina went on a 9-0 run to tie the game. After the break in the game, Alabama missed six consecutive field goals, allowing the Gamecocks to even up the score. Shooting woes are an ugly dance partner and South Carolina passed her off to Alabama for the rest of the half. The Gamecocks shot 10-of-16 after their 0-of-6 start and Alabama shot 3-of-12 after their 5-of-7 start.

After never leading in the first half against Ole Miss, South Carolina entered the locker room at halftime with a 30-25 lead. This was despite leading scorer Duane Notice ending the half with a big ole goose egg. Notice got two early offensive fouls, only played five minutes, and missed his only shot from the field in the first half. The fact that eight different South Carolina players scored made up for Notice's offensive absence.

Maybe it was his first half of rest, or maybe he somehow read my draft, but Duane Notice started the second half with six straight points, pushing South Carolina's lead to 11 and persuading Anthony Grant to call an early timeout. The Crimson Tide trimmed the lead back some but Tyrone Johnson got it right back to double-digits with a nice And-1. Johnson took a charge on the other end in the very next sequence, giving South Carolina possession. That possession ended in a Duane Notice layup, giving him eight points. Each basket was made in the first five minutes of the second half and this specific one gave South Carolina it's biggest lead of the game: 13.

Flow was completely absent from this game, especially in the second half. Fouls and constant whistles caused stoppages in the game and strings of consecutive possessions without interruption never happened in the second period of play.

South Carolina held the lead for the whole second half but Alabama slowly and meticulously chipped away at the Gamecocks lead. Several times the Crimson Tide got it down to five and four, even getting to three with under three minutes to play before South Carolina got it back up to five. After several lapses on the defensive end and a too familiar look of second half inefficiency on offense, South Carolina's lead was reduced to two with just under 30 seconds to play.

Alabama held the ball with the shot clock off and 11 second left. The Crimson Tide moved slowly which caused a bad sequence of offensive execution in the game's last and most pivotal possession. Levi Randolph was forced to jack a 3-pointer that missed as the buzzer sounded.

The Gamecocks offensive aresnal featured all its weapons. Nine Gamecock players scored tonight with Mindaugas Kacinas being the first to reach double-figures. Tyrone Johnson again led the way in conference play with 13 points. Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell combined for 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting from the field. Michael Carrera and Kacinas both came away with good, strong performances. Carrera came up with several key plays and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds while Kacinas finished with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and eight rebounds.

If there ever was a must-win game in mid-January, this was one of them for South Carolina. If they wanted any shot at the Big Dance, they could not start 0-3 in SEC play. Thanks to an all-around performance by this roster, the Gamecocks don't have to worry about that.

The next step will be getting to .500 in conference play, which South Carolina can do in their next game, Saturday at Auburn.