The South Carolina men's basketball team earned their first conference victory of the season over Alabama, 56-54, in SEC action on Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena. The grinding game featured 13 ties and 11 lead changes. The final lead change occurred when Bruce Ellington broke a 54-54 tie on a driving layup with one second to go to give the Gamecocks the win.
The Gamecocks (9-10, 1-4) were led by three players in double figures. Senior forward Malik Cooke netted 18 points and pulled in five rebounds. Sophomore guardBruce Ellington and sophomore forward Damontre Harrisboth added 12 points to the winning effort. Freshman forward Anthony Gill tied a season and career high with nine rebounds. Sophomore forward R.J. Slawson also grabbed nine boards.
The Crimson Tide (13-7, 2-4) also had three players in double figures - freshman guard Levi Randolph with 12, junior forward Tony Mitchell with 11, and freshman forward Nick Jacobs with 10. Mitchell came down with 8 rebounds, as did junior guard Andrew Steele.
Alabama rushed out to an early 5-0 lead, but Cooke scored the next eight points to give South Carolina an early 8-5 lead. After gaining the upper hand, the Gamecocks stayed ahead for a long stretch of the first half. Twice, the Gamecocks built a lead of four during the middle stretch, one time after back-to-back Ellington three pointers, but could not pull ahead by more. The close action saw the lead change three times in the last 4:19 of the first half. The first time, Alabama's Randolph drained a three pointer to make the score 24-23. Ellington reclaimed the advantage for the Gamecocks with a driving layup and Cooke extended the margin to three with a pair of free throws. The final lead change gave the Crimson Tide a 29-27 advantage going into the locker room after another Randolph three-pointer and two free throws by Green.
The second half featured more back and forth action. Again with neither team able to build a lead. Again, the Gamecocks built a four point margin, but could not pull away. Throughout the game, Alabama made an effort to work the shot clock down to the final seconds on many possessions.
After scoring only two points after his initial run to begin the game, Cooke went on another offensive burst scoring three straight South Carolina baskets midway through the second half.
The pivotal play occurred with under a minute to play and the score knotted at 54 apiece. Ellington tipped the ball away from Alabama and to Cooke with 26 seconds remaining to set up a shot to take the lead. Ellington drove to the basket and laid the ball in with one second on the clock to put the Gamecocks up 56-54. Alabama got the ball to senior forward JaMychal Green on the in-bounds pass, but his jumper fell short at the buzzer.
South Carolina continues SEC play when they travel to Oxford, Miss., to face Ole Miss on Saturday, Jan. 28. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.