Five Gamecocks scored in double figures and Chris Silva led the charge to power South Carolina to a late rally against the Ole Miss Rebels, surviving 85-84 in the SEC Tournament’s opening day of action in St. Louis on Wednesday. It was the Gamecocks’ first win in the event since 2015.
Silva scored 21 points to go with 11 rebounds as he set a career high in made free throws (13) and netted his 1,000th point as a Gamecock. Frank Booker matched him offensively with 21 points of his own, followed by Justin Minaya (16), Maik Kotsar (14), and Wes Myers (10). Kotsar and Minaya were somewhat unlikely heroes for the Gamecocks, with Kotsar scoring 13 of his 14 points in a huge first half and Minaya hitting crucial, back-to-back 3s in the second to tie the game and then retake the lead for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks enjoyed a solid start to the game, leading by as many as nine points during the first half. But Ole Miss closed the period on a high note, hitting a buzzer-beater to narrow its deficit to a 38-36 margin at the half. The second half was a slog for both teams, with frequent foul calls disrupting play, and the Gamecocks failed to build on their lead with several misses from the stripe. Ole Miss grabbed a five-point lead with a couple free throws of its own and a 3-pointer, but South Carolina clawed back and held on for the victory, iced by a Booker free throw.
The Gamecocks shot well from beyond the arc, making 12 of their 21 attempts, but were outrebounded 45-41 and left a lot of points at the free-throw line (19 of 34). It wasn’t necessarily an inspiring performance against a team with an interim head coach and the worst scoring defense in the SEC, but it was a victory the Gamecocks had to have, and they found a way to get it. South Carolina is now assured of a winning season, and its hopes for an NIT bid are on much firmer ground.
Up next: The Gamecocks face sixth-seeded Arkansas on Thursday at 9:30 p.m.