Men’s basketball claims nail-biter against Bama
After South Carolina sacrificed a 12-point second-half lead, sophomore Mindaugas Kacinas and freshman Sindarius Thornwell emerged to save the Gamecocks’ day, as they helped beat Alabama 67-66 on Saturday.
In toppling the Crimson Tide (10-15, 4-8 SEC), South Carolina (10-15, 3-9 SEC) won consecutive SEC games for the first time since 2011.
“I’m real proud of our guys,” coach Frank Martin said. “We were on fumes, and every timeout coming down the stretch, there was not a lot of strategy. It was about challenging guys to not give in to fatigue and to a difficult moment. They responded like champs.”
Alabama senior guard Trevor Releford led the Tide’s comeback, tying the game at 54 with 5:31 remaining after hitting from beyond the arc. He put the Crimson Tide up 60-56 after sinking another three-ball.
Thornwell tied the game at 60 with slightly more than two minutes remaining with a runner in the lane.
Releford answered with an and-one layup, but missed the free throw to put Alabama up two.
After making one of two free throws, Thornwell hit another inside runner, which the freshman calls his go-to offensive move now, to put the Gamecocks ahead 63-62 with a minute left.
Alabama guard Rodney Cooper went one of two from the line on the Crimson Tide’s next offensive possession to tie the game at 63.
Then, with 14 seconds left, sophomore forward Michael Carrera missed an inside shot, but Kacinas was there for the tip-in.
Alabama — trailing by two — called a timeout and set up a good look from beyond the arc for Releford, but his shot wedged itself between the rim and the backboard to give South Carolina possession. Thornwell sunk two free throws to seal the game with five seconds left, making Releford’s three-pointer at the buzzer moot.
Releford, Alabama’s go-to scorer, was a nonfactor in the first half with only two points, but exploded with 25 in the second half to give him 27 on the night, which led all scorers. Thornwell paced the Gamecocks with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Besides one mistake, Kacinas played well down the stretch, finishing with six points and five rebounds.
“At the end of the game I made a huge mistake because Releford drove, I wasn’t there and he made an and-one,” Kacinas said. “I recovered with the block and then the tip-in so I feel great.”
From about the midway point in the first half, South Carolina went on a 19-8 run for the rest of the period to go into the break leading 28-19. Freshman guard Jaylen Shaw helped lead the way off the bench with all of his eight points in the first half on three-of-four shooting.
Senior guard Brenton Williams helped expand the Gamecock lead in the second half to 37-25 when he a hit a three with 17:08 remaining.
The Crimson Tide roared back, cutting their deficit to one point a few times until Releford finally tied it.
Martin said his proudest moment of the game was watching his team overcome a moment that it has seen so many times this season. Often the Gamecocks would have sizable leads, then promptly give them up, and could not make a play to stop the other team from winning.
“All of a sudden we got down four, and our guys buckled in and made every play coming down the stretch,” Martin said. “It’s fun to see that from a bunch of young kids.”