What is your favorite individual performance by a South Carolina athlete? You have to pick a single game, but otherwise you can go in any direction with this. So it can be a performance that was just fun to watch, one that was statistically impressive, one that saved a game, or any other combination of factors.
There’s a reason I was thinking about this question during the CWS and for me there’s an easy answer: Michael Roth against Clemson in the 2010 CWS. The Gamecocks were coming through the losers bracket after dropping their opening game in Omaha. They eliminated Arizona State and Oklahoma, then faced Clemson. It was an elimination game for Carolina, but since the Tigers had not lost a game yet that week, Clemson could advance to the CWS Finals with a win. Coach Tanner started Roth, who was a relief pitcher, hoping to get a few innings from him. But Roth pitched a complete game, allowing just 3 hits and 1 run in what was ultimately a 5-1 Carolina victory. USC went on to beat Clemson again to advance to the Finals, then beat UCLA in the championship series to bring home the national title.
Let me just repeat that, because here we are years later and it’s still amazing to me. Sophomore Michael Roth got his first start of the season against South Carolina’s biggest rival on college baseball’s biggest stage and pitched a complete game in which he only allowed one run. That performance from Roth was downright heroic and if he had never pitched for Carolina again he would still have a special place in Gamecock lore. But Roth went on to become a regular starter and was the face of Carolina’s incredible 2010-2012 run of success. Michael Roth is a Gamecock legend now and it started with that ridiculously impressive performance in that game.
Set the scene: The year is 2013, I’m a senior at South Carolina watching my beloved Gamecocks struggle like a one-legged sloth across a freeway against an undefeated, No. 5 Missouri team on the road. Dylan Thompson was being ravaged by the merciless pass rush of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy as the Tiger defense morphed the South Carolina offense totally one dimensional. Down 17-0 halfway into the third quarter, it seemed a third consecutive 10-2 season was all but lost.
But all of a sudden off the bench, a thought-to-be injured Connor Shaw arose like Gandalf the White to take over the reigns of the Gamecock offense and would tie the game 17-17 to force a climactic overtime. Within 25 minutes of game time and two overtime periods, Shaw completed 20 of his 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns -- the best of the scores being a dime to Bruce Ellington on a flag route to the corner of the endzone on 4th-and-15 to force a second period of OT.
South Carolina would end Missouri’s undefeated 2013 season in a 27-24 victory, preserve their own third straight 11-2 season and Connor Shaw would cement himself forever in Gamecock football lore. I will be 95 years-old with no more control over my bowels and will still be able to recall that game play-by-play -- all because Shaw pulled off some real-life heroics in the other Columbia. Forever and ever, he remains my favorite South Carolina football player ever.
So it may seem like I’m taking the easy way out by invoking Sindarius Thornwell’s 44-point game against Alabama this past season for the second week in a row, but I’m really not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the most incredible individual performances I’ve ever watched in college basketball. Not just the fact that it went four OTs, but there was no way that he was going to let them lose that game if he had anything to say about it. Obviously, they did lose, but considering he and the team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the first half, the part he played in helping bring them back and even get it to four OTs (much less one OT as all) will be remembered by everyone that was there and by everyone that watched.
For mine, I'll go back to the 2010 football season. Heading into November, the Gamecocks were atop of the SEC East standings with only two games to go. A winner take-all game loomed in the swamp but Arkansas came into Williams-Brice first. The Razorbacks cruised to a 41-20 win and after that, I remember thinking there was no way they would win in the swamp. Fears felt confirmed after Florida’s Andre Debose housed the opening kick-off to send the swamp into a frenzy.
That's were the good part to this finally begins. Before the end of the first quarter, freshman running back Marcus Lattimore scored to give Carolina their first lead of the night. A couple Spencer Lanning field goals gave USC a 15-7 lead at the break. Lattimore then capped off the first drive of the second half with a 21-yard run to push the lead to 15. The freshman was well over 100 yards at this point. Lattimore found the end zone for a third time late in the fourth to put the Gators away and send South Carolina to their first ever SEC Championship game.
By the final whistle, Lattimore had carried the ball 40 times for 212 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also caught 2 passes for another 31 yards, giving him 243 yards on 42 touches.
Although he didn’t live up to his talent level due to multiple off-field incidents, Stephen Garcia and his play against Alabama has to be the most impressive play I’ve seen by a Carolina athlete. Although the stat line was good, but not great (17-20, 201 yards, 3 TD’s,) it was the importance behind the game that made this so significant. Once USC beat then #1 Alabama, it solidified the turnaround of the program, it heralded the Gamecocks as a legitimate player on the SEC landscape. After that, the nation took notice of the team and it showed that the team could hang with any team in the nation (for three years or so.)