The South Carolina men’s basketball team broke an eight-game losing streak with a close 64-61 win on the road against Ole Miss Saturday afternoon. The victory marked the team's second SEC win of the season in 12 conference games.
The Gamecocks secured the ball at tipoff, but it was the Rebels who scored first with a 3-point shot. Ole Miss continued to score from beyond the arc and maintained a steady lead throughout the first half.
“(We) didn’t get off to a fantastic start necessarily,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “But we weathered the storm – we made our run, they made another run and then we closed the gap to go into the halftime at a reasonable margin.”
South Carolina was able to bring it to a 3-point game going into halftime with a score of 38-35, and the second half saw more back-and-forth play between the two teams.
“We got over some of the things that we did,” Paris said of the second half. “It didn’t look pretty all the time, but we stuck with it and guys grinded out a win.”
While no Gamecock player scored double digit points in the second half, South Carolina avoided committing turnovers, and the team's defensive pressure in the paint prevented the Rebels from growing a lead. After Ole Miss managed a total of 20 rebounds in the first half to the Gamecocks' 16, South Carolina held the Rebels to just 14 rebounds in the second half and put up 18 of its own.
South Carolina's shooting improvements in the second half proved to be pivotal in turning the game around. While the Gamecocks made 39.3% of its attempted field goals in the first half, it shot at a 45.5% clip in the second period.
South Carolina established the clinching lead with under 45 seconds left in the game on a 3-point shot from sophomore guard Jacobi Wright. Sophomore guard Meechie Johnson sealed the victory for the Gamecocks, making three of four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Three Gamecocks players, graduate student forward Hayden Brown, Wright and Johnson, scored in double digits with 18, 17 and 13 points, respectively. The team's leading scorer heading into the game, freshman forward GG Jackson II, had a limited on-court impact in his second consecutive game coming off the bench, scoring 5 points in just 12 minutes played.
Paris said South Carolina's victory came at a time when it was much needed.
“When you’re not winning and you’re not validating what you thought was going to be, it’s hard for those guys,” Paris said.
The key to the Gamecocks' success has been its effort despite the negative narrative surrounding the team from the outside, according to Paris.
“The guys have come back every day,” Paris said. “They come back every day, we have good practices. Their energy and spirit has been good, and that’s the only way you come in and you have a chance to win this game.”
South Carolina has still yet to beat an SEC opponent at home and hopes to flip the script when it returns to Colonial Life Arena to host Vanderbilt on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.