Gamecocks look to build on win

South Carolina opened SEC play by suffering four straight losses -- all by double digits. The Gamecocks entered their home game against Alabama Wednesday night in desperate need of a win.

Just what the doctor ordered. South Carolina got off the schneid in conference play, holding off the Crimson Tide in a tightly contested 56-54 nail-biter. The Gamecocks were the last team in the SEC to post a victory in league play.

The win provides at least a few days' positive momentum for a team that was in sorry shape heading into the game, getting off to an 0-4 start in league play for the first time since 2006-07.

South Carolina beat an Alabama team that came into the game allowing fewer points than any team in the SEC, leading the conference and ranking seventh in the country in scoring defense. But, in a game that featured 11 lead changes and 13 tied scores, South Carolina took the lead for good with just one second remaining in the game, on a driving layup by Bruce Ellington.

That, and a defensive stop at the other end stifling Alabama senior forward Jamychal Green, preserved the Gamecocks' first league win and snapped South Carolina's three-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide.

Now, can South Carolina build on this positive result? The Gamecocks play their next game at Mississippi on Jan. 28, one of three very winnable road games in the next three weeks including contests at Tennessee and Arkansas in the second week of February.

"Now we actually have a win and we can start building on it and continue to do what we have been talking about from day one and that is just keep getting better," coach Darrin Horn said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've just got to keep working to get better. No one wants to hear we're young, but it's true. The only way to change that is game action." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on the Gamecocks' relative youth.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Mississippi, Jan. 28.
KEY MATCHUPS: One of the Gamecocks' biggest challenges will be finding a way to stop Mississippi's top inside threat, Murphy Holloway. Following two solid seasons in Oxford, Miss., Holloway, a native of Columbia suburb Irmo, transferred to USC to be closer to his family. After practicing with the Gamecocks and sitting on the bench throughout the season, he opted to return to Mississippi. He is scoring in double figures and is the team's leading scorer.

STAR WATCH: Sophomore Bruce Ellington chose to go out for the football team this past fall, which slowed his transition back to the hardwood. Ellington has made up for lost time since conference play began. He came into the Alabama game averaging a team-high 13.5 points per game in league play, and scored the game-winning basket for the Gamecocks in Wednesday's win over the Crimson Tide. "That is something philosophically that I have always believed in, give it to the guy that makes plays at the end of the game and see what happens, and he made the shot," Horn said after the game.

FUTURES MARKET: South Carolina continues to look for consistency at shooting guard, where freshman Damien Leonard and sophomore Brian Richardson have almost exclusively logged playing time. While both have had their moments, neither has played well for a long enough stretch to earn the position. Richardson has started the last two games, but it was Leonard who played better offensively against Auburn. The team desperately needs one, if not both, to step it up.

PLAYER NOTES

--South Carolina switched up its lineup for the Alabama game, starting Damien Leonard in the backcourt opposite standout sophomore Bruce Ellington. Brian Richardson, who has been South Carolina's second starting guard, did not play. Leonard contributed six points and two rebounds -- roughly right at his season averages of 6.5 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.

--RJ Slawson came off the bench to grab nine rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. None were bigger than the board that immediately led to a stick-back with 13:54 left in the second half. It staked South Carolina to a short-lived 38-37 lead, but more importantly it ended a string of eight straight missed field goals for the Gamecocks. Prolonged offensive lulls have cost South Carolina in each of its first four SEC games, all losses.

--Junior G/F Lakeem Jackson opened the season as USC's starting point guard while the team waited for Bruce Ellington to complete his stint as a wide receiver with the football team. The experiment did not work well, however, as sophomore Eric Smith took over the spot after a few games until Ellington returned. In recent weeks, Jackson has struggled to even log playing time at his natural position of swing guard, as he has gotten in mostly late at the end of games.

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