Surprise Gamecocks not boring

Early in the Southeastern Conference season, South Carolina has to be classified as the surprise team of the league.

Picked to finish last in the Eastern Division, the Gamecocks found themselves alone on top of the division at least for a night. They own a 12-5 overall record, but are 3-1 in league play following an 81-74 home overtime victory against Arkansas on Jan. 19. Florida is now tied atop the East after defeating Auburn 45-40 last night

South Carolina's victory gave the Gamecocks a 2-0 league record at home, with both victories coming in overtime. The Gamecocks topped Vanderbilt 83-75 a week ago.

"Well, I guess we're not going to be boring at home," coach Darrin Horn said. "I am happy that we were able to get the stops when we needed them and make the plays when we did. It was a total team effort."

While freshman point guard Bruce Ellington has been the team leader throughout most of the season, the Gamecocks had other heroes against Arkansas, as five players scored in double figures.

Reserve guard Ramon Galloway led the way with 21 points, while senior center Sam Muldrow had 20 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. Junior forward Malik Cooke came off the bench to score 11 points and pull down 11 rebounds.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Darrin Horn is a native of Lexington, Ky. Like most from that town, he grew up pulling for the Wildcats prior to heading to Western Kentucky, where he was a standout basketball player and later the Hilltoppers' coach.

Since taking over the South Carolina program, Horn has held the upper hand against his hometown team, claiming three of the four encounters between the Gamecocks and Wildcats. He won the first three, including a victory over a Kentucky team that had just claimed the No. 1 ranking in the country last season in a game played on national television.

Horn and the Gamecocks play host to the Wildcats Saturday night.

Despite entering the week as the Southeastern Conference's only nationally ranked team, the Wildcats (14-4 overall) had a 2-2 league mark.

The game marks the first time South Carolina has faced the Wildcats, under Horn, without all-star guard Devan Downey in the lineup. He is now playing professionally overseas.

NOTES, QUOTES

--South Carolina trailed Arkansas by as many as nine points in the second half Jan. 19 before racing back to win 81-74 in overtime. The Gamecocks scored the first six points in the bonus period and never looked back. South Carolina outrebounded the Razorbacks 41-36, blocked eight shots and forces 17 turnovers. Sam Muldrow connected on eight of 12 shots, including two of five from 3-point range, while reserve guard Ramon Galloway led the team with 21 points, including a thunderous dunk over two taller Arkansas players that seemed to give his team life when it was trailing late in regulation.

--The good thing about fielding a young team is the 2010-11 edition has a short memory as it has displayed the ability to quickly put bad losses in the rear-view mirror and look ahead. The team has only dropped back-to-back games once this season. That enabled the Gamecocks to enter the week in a four-way tie in the difficult Southeastern Conference Eastern Division with a 2-1 mark. It was 11-5 overall.

--Even though he has gotten off to a slow start, many within the program believe 6-9 freshman forward Demontre Harris may have the biggest upside of any athlete on the team. Despite recently breaking into the starting lineup, his statistics have not been imposing. He had a solid floor game against Florida, however, scoring eight points while pulling down four rebounds, blocking three shots and playing solid defense.

--The smaller Gamecocks out-rebounded Florida 39-36 with 14 coming on the offensive boards. USC leads the SEC in offensive rebounds.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The Gamecocks are 9-0 when leading at halftime this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never been in a situation where you come out and try to hold on and it goes good. We wanted to come out and play our game and do the best we can to keep defending and rebounding." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on the Gamecocks owning a 10-point halftime lead and holding on for the win against Florida.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Kentucky, Jan. 22

KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats entered Colonial Life Arena undefeated and ranked number one in the country a year ago. They left with their first loss as USC claimed a 68-62 win. Horn, a Lexington, Ky. native, owns a 3-1 record against UK since taking over the program.

FUTURES MAKET: Darrin Horn opened the season playing virtually his entire team. Since the Gamecocks entered SEC play, the USC coach has narrowed that as seven players are in the main rotation. That includes three freshmen (all starters), two sophomores, a junior and a senior. He has even found a way to rest freshman point guard Bruce Ellington, who leads the team in minutes played. Freshman point guard Eric Smith is playing about 10 minutes per game, which has enabled Ellington to remain fresh.

PLAYER NOTES

--South Carolina continues to start three freshmen and a sophomore, but it is getting huge contributions from the bench. Junior F Malik Cooke, in his first season with the team after transferring from Nevada, has been particularly impressive, especially defensively and on the boards. He had 11 points and 11 rebounds against Arkansas.

--Sophomore G Ramon Galloway was penciled in as a starter prior to the season, but since missing time in the preseason with an injured foot, he has been relegated to the bench. Coach Darrin Horn opted to keep him there, believing he could provide instant offense. That was the case against Arkansas, as he led the team with 21 points.

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