The Gamecock men’s basketball team snapped Kentucky's 28-game home win streak on Tuesday, defeating the Wildcats 71-68.
Sophomore guard Meechie Johnson scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Gamecocks to a narrow victory. Freshman forward GG Jackson scored 16 points to bounce back from a scoreless outing over the weekend against Tennessee.
“I put in a lot of work to be in this position, but I just wanted to do anything I honestly could to help my team win, and my coach right here got a lot of confidence in me, my teammates got a lot of confidence in me,” Johnson said. “It was just one of those nights, man. Hopefully, I can have a lot more nights like this.”
South Carolina started the game by hitting shots at an efficient rate and built an 11-point lead less than five minutes into the game.
Kentucky slowly chipped away at the Gamecocks' advantage as the game went on, and just over 12 minutes into the second half, the Wildcats climbed within 3 points of the lead.
“We were hot early. We ran some good offense and made some shots, a couple from way out on the moon even,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “But they came back, which we knew they would. The crowd got into it; I couldn’t call plays anymore. It’s deafening.”
South Carolina's long-range shooting and a scoring drought from Kentucky allowed the Gamecocks to extend the lead back to double digits late in the second half. South Carolina shot 11-20 behind the three-point line, while Kentucky was just 3-10.
South Carolina also capitalized on its second chance opportunities, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to score 21 second chance points. The offensive rebounding margin was close — the Gamecocks secured one more rebound on their own side — but the Wildcats scored just 12 second chance points.
Turnovers were an issue for the Gamecocks, as they committed 15 turnovers to Kentucky's six. After the Wildcats clawed their way back into the game one final time, a costly South Carolina turnover in the final 30 seconds nearly gave Kentucky a chance to send the game into overtime.
However, the Gamecocks’ defense held firm on the game's final possession, and South Carolina earned its first SEC victory of the season and its first win in Lexington since 2009.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys at that moment. These guys have never been here. They’ve never been in this building playing. They’ve never been in that situation,” Paris said. “To not let that thing continue to slide in the wrong direction and reel it back in and make a play when we needed to, I thought that was a big reason why we were able to just keep just enough distance.”
South Carolina scored 42 points in the first half, matching its total score from its last game against Tennessee. The Gamecocks have now scored at least 40 points in a half five times this season.
With this win, South Carolina improves to 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference and 8-8 overall. The team’s next opportunity for a conference win will come on Saturday, when it returns to Colonial Life Arena to host Texas A&M at 6 p.m.