Downey's 4-Point Play Rolls Back the Tide

On the night when the Gamecocks honored one of the greatest players in USC history, the show belonged to one of the finest players to wear the garnet and black in recent years. With John Roche watching on, Devan Downey made a game-winning four point play, as Carolina escaped 67-65 over Alabama.

Downey's game-winner capped off a hard-fought individual with Alabama's Mykal Riley. Riley scored a career-high 28 points and went 8-10 from behind the arc, setting the Colonial Center record for made three-pointers and tying the Alabama team record; but Downey went one better, scoring 29 with 7 steals.

"What do you say about Devan?" Odom asked rhetorically. "He did everything that we asked him to do, almost."

Following a back and forth game where neither team led by more than 7, Carolina called a timeout with 30.9 seconds left, trailing 65-63. Dave Odom drew up a play that put the ball in the hands of Zam Fredrick, but when the play broke down, Downey took matters into his own hands. Standing three feet behind the three point arc, he rose up and drilled a shot as Mikhail Torrance fouled him. Downey stepped to the line and calmly sank the free-throw to give Carolina a 67-65 lead with 14.3 seconds left.

"I felt like I was open enough and I made a few, so I let it go with confidence," said Downey. "I also was thinking that we were down so we needed an opportunity, if we missed, to foul. It broke down, so I shot it with confidence."

"No!" Odom laughed when asked if he designed a play for a 23 foot shot. "We did draw up a play. It was Zam coming back out of the corner. As it turned out, Devan seized the moment, and never afraid, rose up and shot the ball."

"It was a great shot by a great player," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "You've got to give him credit. Sometimes the game comes down to one play, and they stepped up and made it."

The situation was very similar to what happened in the last home game against Vanderbilt. In that game, Downey made a clutch reverse layup to give the Gamecocks the lead with six seconds left. The Commodores took advantage of defensive confusion to score a game-winning buzzer beater. This time, Carolina clamped down defensively, and Downey was able to knock the ball out of bounds with 0.2 seconds left, leaving Alabama without enough time to get a shot off. Downey was confident the Gamecocks would not repeat their mistake, but Odom was not so sure.

"After I hit the three, I said everybody call your man, and that's what we did," said Downey. "Everybody pointed to their man. It just shows we've matured as a team. This time we buckled down and they didn't even get a shot off."

"When they threw that ball in, I closed my eyes and started counting [down]," Odom said. "I couldn't stand it, and when it hit 10 [seconds], I opened my eyes and we had five white shirts, each on their own man, almost in uniform fashion."

Downey's seven steals were critical for Carolina. The Gamecocks were out-rebounded 33-26, but forced 18 turnovers while committing just 6. Steals accounted for 14 of the Alabama turnovers. Furthermore, the Crimson Tide shot 70.0% from the field in the second half (50.5% for the game, compared to Carolina's 40.6%), so the only way Carolina was able to keep the ball out of the basket was by forcing turnovers.

Zam Fredrick had an off night for the Gamecocks, scoring just 4 points, but Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes picked up the slack. Facing off against one of the SEC's best big men, Richard Hendrix, Archie, and Holmes were able to offset Alabama's post presence. Hendrix reached his season averages, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Archie matched Hendrix with 17 points, and Holmes came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 8 rebounds.

"It was good to have Mike Holmes on the court being productive," said Odom. "I do not think that is the last time you will see him this year being productive. It's been a process getting him to understand certain things he is able to do and certain things he is not able to do. I was tremendously pleased with him defensively. He more than held his own inside."

It took a spectacular finish to the game to overshadow what happened at halftime. Former Gamecock John Roche returned to Columbia to be honored as one of the Gamecock Greats. He spoke to the media before the game, and to the fans at halftime. During the second half, Roche signed autographs on the concourse, before returning to a suite to see Downey's game-winner. Roche received a standing ovation at halftime, and the loudest cheer the fans had made to that point in the game, and the line for autographs stretched nearly halfway around the Colonial Center. Roche declined to speak to the Gamecocks before the game, fearing they would not know who he was, and did not expect the level of adoration the fans showed.

"It quite surprises me, actually," he said. "I do understand that our team played at the University at a very unique and special time when the interest was very high in basketball and we had some very good teams. It was very touching today when people come up and talk to me and say that they have very fond memories when they were growing up of the teams that I played on."

Roche, who has said several times that he does not follow college basketball very closely, watched his first Gamecock basketball game since the mid 1990s, when he came back to honor the passing of his coach, Frank McGuire. Insisting that he does not purposefully avoid Gamecocks basketball, Roche said there were two reasons he wanted to return.

"I'm here for two reasons: to be part of the celebration of Carolina basketball, and secondly to honor the very fine coaching career of Dave Odom."

Game notes:

- Mike Holmes increased playing time corresponded with decreased time for Sam Muldrow. Muldrow played just 1 minute.

- The 14 steals by the Gamecocks were their most in SEC play this season.

- A larger than normal announced crowd of 13,336 turned out for the game, many there just to see Roche. The crowd was relatively quiet until Roche was introduced at halftime. The crowd settled down again until Hendrix picked up an offensive foul when he inadvertently elbowed Holmes in the face with just over 8 minutes to play. The crowd sensed malice in the play, and from that point on became loudly involved in the game.

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