Bowl-bound Ellington sparks USC to victory

After defeating Wofford on Wednesday night in Columbia to improve to 6-6, Malik Cooke and South Carolina next host USC Upstate on Saturday at noon on SportSouth.

COLUMBIA -- Sometime in the wee hours this morning, Bruce Ellington was scheduled to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight, gliding through the pitch-black sky on the way to Orlando, Fla.

South Carolina's sophomore point guard turned wide receiver turned point guard will switch back to football again for the next five days as he prepares for Monday's Capital One Bowl against Nebraska. He will miss just one basketball game, Saturday against USC Upstate, and is scheduled to play the night after the bowl against South Carolina State.

In his final game before the brief layoff from basketball, Ellington gave coach Darrin Horn reason to feel hopeful about his adjustment to hoops. Ellington, last season's leading scorer, scored a season-high 17 points Wednesday night and shot 5 of 7 (5 of 6 on 3-pointers, as the Gamecocks beat Wofford, 57-45.

It was Ellington's sixth game back after missing the first six because of football, and his performance helped the Gamecocks overcome an off-night from leading scorer Malik Cooke (three points on 1-of-9 shooting) and Wofford out- rebounding them 34-26.

"I think a month ago, if Malik Cooke had a 1-for-9 night, it would have been borderline impossible for us to win," Horn said.

But USC's offense was still efficient Wednesday (20-of-45 shooting, with 14 assists) as Ellington and freshman shooting guard Damien Leonard took advantage of perimeter shooting opportunities against Wofford's zone defense. Leonard made 4 of 7 shots (4 of 6 3s) and scored 14 points in just 16 minutes.

It was the best 3-point shooting effort of the year for Leonard, a highly regarded recruit who seems to be finding his stroke. In the first eight games, he made just 12 of 51 3s. In the past four: 10 of 19. He started the season's first seven games, but none since, and had to adjust to coming off the bench -- a foreign concept for most high school stars.

He did just fine with it in the second half Wednesday. He sat until then 12:06 mark, then from 8:53 to 5:14. Horn re-inserted him because Wofford stuck with the zone, and Leonard promptly knocked down his first two shots -- 3s at 4:56 and 3:26 -- "like it's shooting practice," Horn said. The latter put USC up 52-43.

With his basketball game improving, Ellington isn't worried about any negative effects of playing football for the next five days.

"I don't think it's going to be a couple steps back," he said.