The Ole Miss Rebels (12-8, 7-6 SEC) defeated the South Carolina men's basketball team (5-9, 3-7 SEC) 81-74 on Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena. Since upsetting then-ranked No. 22 Florida on Feb. 3, the Gamecocks have lost their last three contests, putting them in a tough position to qualify for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
While the team showed considerable fight late, turnovers and a struggle to stop a ferocious Rebels' offense proved to be the difference in a costly loss. The Gamecocks trailed by as much as 18 down the stretch and only led for a grand total of 26 seconds out of Saturday's entire game.
South Carolina was down one starter early into the evening, as sophomore guard Jermaine Couisnard was forced to exit with an apparent lower leg injury. He was unable to return to the game.
It was an extremely slow start to the game for the Gamecocks, which missed their first seven shots and fell behind early. Towards the end of the first half, the Rebels went on a crucial 17-4 run to go ahead by 13 just before at the break. Junior guard A.J. Lawson responded with two free throws and a 3-pointer to make it 36-28 after 20 minutes.
With the loss of Couisnard, sophomore forward Wildens Leveque stepped up, making four of his five first-half shots, good for 8 points. Additionally, he blocked three Ole Miss shots, keeping the team from being down by double-digits heading into the second half. Other than Leveque, only one other Gamecock made more than one shot in the first half.
One of the biggest issues for the Gamecocks was the inability to slow down senior guard Devontae Shuler. A former all-state guard at Irmo High School, Shuler scored a career-high 31 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He made two of his five 3-point attempts and added seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks to his already-stellar stat line. Shuler was also lights out at the free throw line, knocking down 13 of 16.
As a team, the Rebels shot 50% from the field, in comparison to South Carolina's 40.4% mark.
From the start of the second half, the Gamecocks struggled in the turnover department. They continuously gave the basketball away, putting themselves in a bigger hole as the game wore on. Overall, they had 19 turnovers on the night.
"[Ole Miss] came out hard with a lot of effort," Lawson said. "With us, we kind of just settled for a lot of things and didn't execute. Then we also gave a lot of turnovers, I see. We can't be doing that, we have to take care of the ball and just execute whatever offense we have to do, whatever coach calls; we haven't been doing it right."
With the win, the Rebels extend their win streak to four games and continue to make a case for an NCAA Tournament berth.
"I won't say keeping the energy is the problem. I think we just haven't been playing as a team for these past couple of games, so I think that was the problem," junior forward Keyshawn Bryant said postgame.
Looking to snap a three-game skid, South Carolina will travel to Knoxville on Tuesday, where they will take on No. 16 Tennessee. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.