Gamecock Seniors Shine In Win Over Rebels
Ole Miss entered the game perched precariously on the NCAA Tournament bubble. At 7-6 in conference play, the Rebels could ill afford to lose to the SEC's cellar dwellers. However, Ole Miss failed to come out with the intensity to match their situation. Instead it was Carolina that came out with a sense of urgency, as seniors Tre Kelley, Brandon Wallace, and Bryce Sheldon wanted to make sure they earned a win as a parting gift.
"They've taken ownership of the program here, and they are Gamecocks forever," Dave Odom said of his seniors. Kelley said after the game that they knew if the seniors played well, the rest of the team would follow. "For us to come out and play the way we did as a unit, and as seniors, was very special," Kelley said. "It was important that we came out and led our basketball team." Sheldon agreed with Kelley's assessment, as he said, "It was a great team win. The supporting cast really came through out there."
Kelley started things off by nailing a pull-up jumper for the game's first points. Ole Miss and Carolina proceeded to match baskets for the next eight minutes. The highlight during the sequence was an inbounds play where Kelley found Wallace on an alley-oop play, and Wallace nearly hit his head on the rim.
Leading 15-9, the Gamecocks made the game's first run. Dwayne Day nailed a three, followed by layups from Dominique Archie and Brandis Raley-Ross. Kelley capped the run with a long three to give the Gamecocks a ten point lead, 25-15. Wallace contributed with a block, his third of the game, tying the school record for career blocks.
Ole Miss responded to Carolina's run with a 12-2 run of their own, tying the game at 27. The run took just three minutes for the Rebels, who keyed the run with a pair of threes by Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders. Despite the run, the Gamecocks did not surrender, and managed to hold a 35-33 lead at halftime behind Kelley's 12 first half points.
As was the case against Tennessee, the Gamecocks came out of the break uncharacteristically focused. Kelley drove to the basket and was fouled as he hit the layup, giving Carolina a quick three points. The play also set the tone for the second half, where the Rebels struggled to stay out of foul trouble, sending Carolina to the line fifteen times, and going into the double bonus with over 8 minutes left in the game.
Sheldon, who struggled to find his shot in the first half, found his groove in the second. Sheldon added a pair of three-point shots as Carolina started the half with a 12-6 run. Later, when the Rebels were starting to get back in the game, Sheldon put a dagger into Ole Miss with another three, giving the Gamecocks an 11 point lead and basically icing the game.
A timeout by Coach Andy Kennedy did nothing to get Ole Miss refocused. "I thought it was our worst performance of the year," Kennedy fumed after the game, "not so much in the way we played, which was atrocious, but in our approach." Kennedy suggested his players may have taken the Gamecocks lightly because of their record. "Sometimes people get deceived by records, and they get deceived into thinking ‘this team's a good team, and this team's a bad team.'" The Rebels' inability to defend Kelley and Sheldon left Kennedy with a bad taste in his mouth. "Tre Kelley is a marvelous player. He certainly deserves player of the year consideration. We couldn't do anything with him. When you leave [Sheldon] open, like we foolishly did, he makes shots."
With a comfortable lead, Carolina went into its stall offense, giving Kelley a chance to create a personal highlight reel. The Gamecocks would dribble away the first 25-30 seconds of the shot clock, then spread the floor and let Kelley create for himself or his teammates.
Players of the Game: Seniors Tre Kelley, Bryce Sheldon, and Brandon Wallace.
The three combined for 54 of Carolina's 76 points on senior night. Sheldon scored 12 points in the second half as Carolina put away the Rebels. Wallace dominated the defensive end, swatting away seven shots as he set the school record for blocked shots.
Key Moment: Coming out of the break, Kelley established the tone for the second half by driving to the rim and drawing a foul, then converting for a three point play. The possession gave Carolina a working margin and jump-started what would turn out to be the deciding run.
- Kelley's 28 points moved him into 12th place on the school scoring list, passing Melvin Watson. He added 6 assists and a block on the night.
- Other than the seniors, the only other Gamecock in double figures was Dominique Archie, with 12 points.
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