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February 14, 2009GamecockCentral.com traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to cover the South Carolina-Alabama men's basketball game.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The rebound that gave Mike Holmes another double-double gave South Carolina the most important possible statistic -- a win.
Holmes' 10th rebound at Alabama on Saturday bounced softly off the glass and through the net as the horn sounded, delivering the Gamecocks a 75-73 victory that kept them tied for first place in the SEC East. Officials huddled around the replay monitors as each team waited for the final call, but jubilation was already reigning on the USC bench -- it's becoming habit.
Sure enough, the officials confirmed the shot was before the buzzer, signaled the basket was good and the Gamecocks had their latest hero -- and another win.
"The play was set up for Devan," said Holmes, who also had 12 points. "He shot a fadeaway. Dominique tipped the ball, so it gave me the opportunity to put it back in."
The last frantic seconds capped a wild game where USC played a mistake-plagued first half, trailed by as much as 15 and kept throwing away momentum-defining possessions. The Gamecocks took the lead in the second half but slipped behind again until too many Alabama flubs in the waning minutes took their toll.
Archie traveled before setting up for a wide-open 3-pointer when the Crimson Tide (13-11, 3-7 SEC) got the ball back with 56.5 seconds to play. An afternoon of bruising the Gamecocks inside was about to pay off as Anthony Brock brought the ball upcourt.
But Brock was whistled for charging into Holmes and USC regained possession through a chorus of boos. Downey waited, burning around 15 seconds off the clock, before he sprinted left around Zam Fredrick's screen and launched a shot with two hands in his face.
The ball dropped into an ocean of arms underneath the basket before Archie leaped and tipped it. It spun around the rim once and dropped again, this time to Holmes.
It was in as the clock hit zeroes. The replay held up and USC walked out of Coleman Coliseum a winner for just the second time since 1997.
"Took everybody to make that happen," coach Darrin Horn said. "Zam spaced and created an opportunity for Devan to drive, Dominique kept it alive, and Mike tipped it in. Glad to get a road win."
Holmes became the third player to hit the fourth game-winner in the final seconds this season. Downey did it at Kentucky, Fredrick at Baylor and against Florida at home.
He deferred credit to Archie's tip and to his other teammates, saying it was just his turn.
"Lets my team know I got their back at all times," he said. "It feels the same. We got the win."
Thanks to Florida losing to Georgia, USC (18-3, 7-3) stayed tied with Tennessee and Kentucky for the SEC East lead with six games to play. The Gamecocks are at Mississippi State on Wednesday and, as Downey said, control their own destiny.
"We ain't got to look and see who wins or anything," he said.
For the first half, it didn't look like USC would be celebrating. The Gamecocks were sloppy handling the ball, were getting destroyed in transition, by Alonzo Gee and Mikhail Torrance inside and basically looked like a team that was coming off a week off.
But Horn said he didn't scream or peel the paint off the wall at halftime, USC trailing by 10.
"I talked to them about like I'm talking to you guys right now," he said. "Just reminded them that we gave up too many easy baskets, and here's how we gave them up, and offensively we're not moving the ball and taking care of it like we need to and we've got to get focused on doing those things."
USC took off on a 9-0 run out of the locker room, making it a one-point game, and took its first lead with 9:32 to play on three Fredrick free throws. The lead bounced back and fourth until Senario Hillman converted a three-point play with 4:54 to go, making it 70-66 Alabama.
From then on, the Crimson Tide couldn't buy a shot and USC kept fighting through its turnovers. Archie hit a 3-pointer and a putback to keep the Gamecocks within a point and after Downey drove the lane for a finger-roll, USC led 73-72 with 2:38 to go.
Gee hit the front end of a one-and-one to tie it before each team embarked on a run of missed shots. Once Brock charged into Holmes, Holmes picked himself up and got ready to win.
The opportunity came, Holmes grabbed it and put it right back up.
"I was under there when Devan shot, just trying to get position, so I could get the rebound and put it back," he said. "We just keep believing and playing hard every day."