"I thought one of the keys was going to be that we had to get in the game early," said Odom, who announced his retirement for season's end several days ago after a successful career at East Carolina, Wake Forest and USC. "By that I mean Ole Miss has shown the ability to spurt away from teams quickly. I was determined our team was going to keep the game under control.
"We didn't have to necessarily be ahead in the first eight or ten minutes, but we needed to be in touch with them," Odom continued, "because I think they're a tough team to come back on when they get rolling, particularly in this environment. And we accomplished that early. We got in the game early and proved that we belonged here. A lot of people doubted that, but we proved it. That's an important mental thing for any team. The longer it went, the more it became apparent."
The Gamecocks, who had never won in Oxford before in eight tries, fell behind by four points on several occasions in the first half but made a run to take an eight-point lead. Trailing 15-11, USC moved out in front 27-19 on a Devan Downey 10-foot jumper with six minutes to go before intermission.
But just as quickly as USC had bolted out to that advantage, Ole Miss scored eight straight as a crowd of 9,109 erupted. The Rebs had a chance for nine points in a row but Zach Graham couldn't finish an old-fashioned 3-point play.
Tied 27-27, Odom said it was at this point that his team made its biggest statement of all.
"To end the half up 39-34 really spoke volumes about our team," he said. "We were here to play. We were here to win."
Dwayne Curtis scored a basket to pull Ole Miss to within three points at 39-36 to open the second half, but South Carolina would answer in a big way. The Gamecocks scored on their first 10 possessions of the second half and led 59-51. There was plenty of time left, more than 14 minutes, but the Rebels were in a war that Andy Kennedy had worried about.
South Carolina is a team that "scares me to death," he said a couple of days before the game. His fears came true.
"I certainly felt like they (Gamecocks) were in control of the game," he said, especially speaking of the first half when, as Odom said, USC tried and succeeded at setting the tone. "We certainly made our runs. And our energy at the end of the game was much better."
And they had a better than average chance to win it, too. Fighting all the way back to lead 77-75 on a dramatic David Huertas 3-pointer with a minute and a half to go, the Rebels were set to move into a week off from games with a victory.
After USC couldn't produce, the Rebels had a chance to increase their lead. Ole Miss called timeout with 39 seconds left. Moving the ball around for the shot they wanted, the Carolina defense stiffened one last time, and Eniel Polynice was left with a baseline shot in traffic that sailed over the basket as the shot clock was set to expire.
South Carolina got the rebound with 20 seconds left and drove it downcourt. Zam Fredrick got the ball at the top of the 3-point circle to Dominique Archie who fumbled it for a split second, rose up, and nailed it with eight seconds left for a 78-77 USC lead.
Still there was time as the Rebels drove it back to their end, but Chris Warren was pressured in front of the Rebels' bench and stepped out of bounds with a second left. A technical foul was called on Ole Miss and Downey made two free throws to end the game, since the Gamecocks also got the basketball back.
"It's very, very difficult to win on the road in this league," Kennedy said. "The way you win on the road is just like South Carolina did. Everybody they put in the game contributed."
The Gamecocks, 11-10 on the season and 3-4 in league play, had also won on the SEC road this season at Arkansas.
USC shot 58 percent in the second half, the second consecutive Saturday a team has blistered the nets vs. Ole Miss. Last Saturday Mississippi State shot 69 percent in the second half of its win over the Rebels.
Ole Miss shot just 43 percent (6-of-14) from the free throw line, and that was as much its undoing as anything on this day.
The Rebels won the battle of the boards with 39 rebounds to 28 for South Carolina.
Downey paced USC with 25 points, seven assists, and five steals. Archie, 8-for-12 on the day from the field, had 20. Fredrick contributed 13.
Dwayne Curtis was 11-of-13 from the floor and had 25 points to lead UM. Warren and Zach Graham had 14 each, while Huertas had 13.
The Rebs, 16-4 overall and 3-4 in SEC play, are at Arkansas next Saturday afternoon.
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