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Gamecock men edge Tennessee late in thriller, 63-61, to win third straight

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Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

In what many considered a must-win game for whatever faint NCAA Tournament hopes South Carolina still possesses, the Gamecocks rallied for a wild and unlikely 63-61 home victory over Tennessee on Saturday night.

In a bit of karmic retribution, the Vols’ John Fulkerson — the hero of the previous meeting who drew a game-winning charge — was himself called for a late charge that gave the Gamecocks new life at the free-throw line, and the ability to put the game away.

Senior big man Maik Kotsar pulled South Carolina’s fat out of the fryer, making four key free throws in the final 21 seconds to grab the lead and then secure the victory. Prior to Kotsar’s cold-blooded makes, the Gamecocks had once again struggled from the charity stripe, shooting just 59% for the game and also failing to connect from behind the arc (31%). The contest was otherwise evenly matched, with both teams shooting around 40% from the field and the Gamecocks grabbing just a couple more boards than the Volunteers (31-33).

Kotsar led USC with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Jermaine Couisnard joined him in double figures with 12. A.J. Lawson, who struggled to get much of anything going in the first half, stepped up with some key buckets late and finished with nine points.

With the victory, South Carolina snapped a five-game losing streak against Tennessee and won for the eighth time in 10 games. The Gamecocks are also tied for fourth in the SEC standings with Florida.

Something to watch out for, though: Freshman big man Jalyn McCreary, who’d been playing well with eight points and four rebounds, departed with an injury and didn’t return. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’ll be good to go.

South Carolina (16-9, 8-4 SEC) travels to face Mississippi State (16-9, 7-5) on Wednesday at 9 p.m.