Improbable Blowout Breathes Life Into USC
Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama had just presented a message that included the words "YES WE CAN" to a capacity crowd on Friday evening next door at the Columbia Convention Center. Tre Kelley's teammates must have heard those words and taken them to heart.
With a blowout loss at home against the Georgia Bulldogs just a week ago, and fresh off a road loss to Vanderbilt following a blown second half lead, nobody other than Kelley and Head Coach Dave Odom would predict a win against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday afternoon, who were coming off a recent victory over the 20th ranked Kentucky Wildcats. But nobody, including the optimistic head coach or his star point guard, could have forecasted an improbable 17 point victory that actually could have been worse had Odom not called off the dogs and cleared his bench in the final minutes of play.
Both men had recently asked fans and supporters in their own way to not give up on the team, and the Gamecocks responded with their best effort of the year in the 81-64 triumph over the Vols.
Kelley, in his normal fashion, took control of the game and led his team in scoring with 25 points and 5 assists, placing another performance in the books to stake his claim as the league's most outstanding player this year. Playing head-to-head against Tennessee sharpshooter Chris Lofton, the SEC's leading scorer, the star-watch was lopsided with Lofton finishing with 13 points on 3-10 shooting and only 1-7 from beyond the three point stripe. Actual kudos go to Bryce Sheldon, the improbable defender, who drew Lofton in the primary defensive matchup.
Brandon Wallace was a force inside defensively, recording 4 blocks and snagging key rebounds during ties that disallowed the poor shooting Volunteers to gain second chance opportunities. The 4 blocks represent another factor, as Wallace's presence in the paint created altered interior shots that further led to the poor shooting for the team from "Rocky Top".
Great outside shooting by Sheldon, Dwayne Day and Brandis Raley-Ross caused Tennessee to extend its defense, which periodically created inside baskets for Dominique Archie and Wallace. The starting lineup of Kelley, Wallace, Sheldon, Archie and Raley-Ross challenged seemingly every play on defense and aggressively attacked the glass and the scoring opportunities on every possession. The team displayed a level of confidence throughout the game taking all physicality disadvantages away with strong rebounding from the guard position, with Raley-Ross grabbing a team leading 7 rebounds to go with his 12 points.
The Gamecocks played a nearly flawless game, which included protection of the basketball with only 8 turnovers against a team that averaged creating a league leading 19 turnovers a game. The Tennessee backcourt and half court pressure was never a factor in the game.
Using the one game at a time approach, one has to wonder if Dave Odom has convinced his team to start their late season stellar play of recent years a few weeks prior to the SEC tournament, where previous Odom squads have played their best basketball. Those late season surges have resulted in back to back NIT championships the past two seasons, but Kelley has held on to his desire to lead this team to the NCAA tournament in his final season. A berth in the "Big Dance" is a feat that seems improbable, but so did Saturday's manhandling of Bruce Pearl's Volunteers.
Next up, the Gamecocks will face off against the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Wednesday night. The Gators are coming off an upset loss at the hands of the Vanderbilt Commodores, a team that USC led for much of the game last Wednesday. The #1 ranked Gators seemed unbeatable until early Saturday afternoon, but anything can be achieved if a team just believes.
Gamecock Anthem Top Stories
Updated Scout 300 Trend Meter For 2017The updated Scout 300 Trend Meter for the 2017 class takes a look at which schools are trending for each uncommitted member in the Scout 300.
Scout FootballYesterday at 5:40 AM
SEC Recruiting NotebookNews, notes and recruiting scoop out of the SEC...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:00 AM
New Head Coaches Mid-Season ReportThere were a lot of college football head coaching changes before this season. Let's take a look at how a few have fared so far this season.
Scout's Top 25 Recruiting ClassesScout has a new top school in the recruiting rankings. Take a look at capsules for the top 25 classes in the country, including a new number one.