SOUTH CAROLINA 58, CLEMSON 55
CLEMSON -- With 30 seconds left in Sunday's game between South Carolina and Clemson, USC point guard Bruce Ellington knifed through the lane, his 5-9 body momentarily almost impossible to see in the crowd of players. Then Ellington looked to his right and spotted one player who wasn't in that crowd, teammate Eric Smith, wide open on the wing.
Smith fumbled Ellington's pass -- Ellington later blamed himself for it being errant -- but Smith remained composed, took a step just inside the 3-point line and buried a jump shot. It was one of the biggest plays not only of the Gamecocks' gritty 58-55 win over Clemson, which snapped their three-game losing streak, but of their season so far.
USC (3-5) led 54-51 after Smith's shot, and never trailed again, as Tanner Smith, who is one of Clemson's best shooters, made just two of three free throws when Clemson (4-3) was down
56-53 with 7.5 seconds remaining. Smith was despondent afterward, burying his face in his jersey as the Tigers stood together on the court and listened to the alma mater.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, can feel good about themselves heading into final exams. They don't play again until Dec. 13, at home against Presbyterian. The Tigers will try to regroup for Saturday's trip to Arizona.
"We're going to take some lumps because we're young," said USC coach Darrin Horn, who has just one senior and one junior. "But at the same time, I think we showed tonight that we've got some fight in us. I don't think we're going to be super pretty all year long. I think we'll get a little prettier, but we need to fight and scrap and claw to win."
Freshman power forward Anthony Gill's 3-pointer with 1:19 left sure looked pretty. It put the Gamecocks up 52-49 -- their first lead since 10:19 remained in the first half. Before Sunday, Gill had attempted and made just one 3 all year. But Horn said he never had any doubts about Gill taking the shot.
It highlighted a balanced effort from the Gamecocks. Gill scored 10 points, as did forward Damontre Harris. Ellington and shooting guard Brian Richardson each had nine. Small forward Lakeem Jackson scored eight. Clemson coach Brad Brownell thought the Tigers got too little from their post players, Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, whose frequent struggles to finish or draw fouls in the paint was "back-breaking" and "a little demoralizing," Brownell said.
"We defended really well, but you've got to find a way to scrape together a few more points," said Brownell, whose team scored just 20 in the second half, on 7-of-24 shooting.
Clemson also got too little from its leading scorer, guard Andre Young, who scored eight points (7.2 fewer than his average) and shot 3 of 11, 2 of 9 on 3-pointers -- including zero points on 0-of-5 shooting in the second half, when his only shots were 3s.
As the Gamecocks prepared for Clemson, Horn emphasized that they couldn't let Young "go off," as he did in the Tigers' previous game, a win at Iowa in which Young scored 19 points and shot 6 of 10 (5 of 6 on 3s). USC needed to make him play like he did in a loss to the College of Charleston: 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting (2 of 10 on 3s).
"I've been saying for weeks that I believe when this team gets everybody doing what they're capable of doing, we've got a chance to be a good basketball team and find a way to win some games," Horn said. "Our team tonight looked like we want South Carolina basketball to look, win or lose. That was a real positive step for us."
3-Point -- USC 5-15 (Gill 2-3, Cooke 0-2, Jackson 0-1, Smith 0-1, Richardson 2-3, Ellington 1-4, Leonard 0-1); Clemson 5-18 (Jennings 0-1, Hall 1-1, Smith 2-5, Young 2-9, Sapp 0-1, Narcisse 0-1). Steals -- USC 6 (Cooke 4); Clemson 3 (Booker, Smith, Sapp). Blocks -- USC 5 (Harris 5); Clemson 1 (Baciu). Turnovers -- USC 8 (Jackson 2, Ellington 2); Clemson 11 (Jennings 5). A--7,238.