Downey's 30 leads Gamecocks to historic win

Locked in a see-saw affair with the #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats, Darrin Horn's South Carolina basketball team was able to pull through with the help of their record-breaking point guard, securing the school's first ever win over a top ranked opponent.

South Carolina beat its first ever school ranked atop the AP poll, 68-62, prompting a mad dash from USC students and fans to celebrate the record-breaking win. A sellout crowd came to watch the Gamecocks, only the fourth such crowd in arena history.

"Everybody just saw a great college basketball game with two teams absolutely playing their guts out," said Horn after the game. "It's obviously a huge win for our program for a lot of reasons. I'm really happy for our players, especially our seniors who have been through a lot of adversity – and our fans. The entire Gamecock Nation deserves this. It's really a huge win for us."

Kentucky's all-star lineup got off to a fast start, scoring 11 points in the game's opening five minutes. Freshman phenom John Wall gave the ‘Cats their first lead of the game with an early 3-pointer, and the team was led by forward DeMarcus Cousins early on.

It was a fast and physical first half, with John Calipari's team trying to assert its hard-nosed style of play, and the scrappy Gamecocks managing to stay in the game. After Kentucky went up by 7 with just a couple minutes left in the half, USC responded with a 4-0 run to close the gap to 29-26 and only trail by 3 points at halftime.

Calipari said that despite the talent level of his young players, they made some key mistakes early on that allowed the Gamecocks to hang in the game.

"If we don't get them to the free throw line and don't give offensive rebounds, they'd have 14 (points) at halftime," noted Calipari. "As I sat there and watched it unfold, I said this is what happens to a young team. We weren't really listening how we had to execute down the stretch."

Despite facing a huge challenge in Wall, Downey was at it again, scoring 13 points, or exactly 50% of the Gamecock offense heading into the break. Cousins proved to be an equally difficult matchup for the Gamecock defense, leading the way for the Wildcats with 10.

The second half opened the same way the first one ended, with the Gamecocks taking advantage of their offensive opportunities. Coming out of the intermission, Carolina was able to go on a 7-0 run after falling behind 31-26. It was the Gamecocks' first lead since they led in the opening minutes.

After leading consistently much of the first half, it became a back and forth affair after the break, with both teams going on runs to take the lead away from the opposition. The Gamecocks outscored the Wildcats by a 42-33 margin after the half.

One player who did not have trouble scoring all night for the Wildcats was freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins. For much of the game, it seemed as if Downey and Cousins were locked in a scoring battle, with the big man matching Downey's intensity shot for shot.

Cousins finished with 27 points. The much ballyhooed John Wall was also able to contribute a very respectable 19 points. Still, Downey admitted after the game that the Colonial Life Arena was a tough place for any freshman to play on Tuesday night.

Although Downey did not have his best shooting night, he still finished with 30 points and 2 steals. Perhaps the key to the game was the help of Brandis Raley-Ross, whose 17 points were a key addition to Downey's consistent scoring.

"My key was all along, if it's close, we have #2 and we have a shot," added Horn. "Devan is Devan. We have him right now. We don't have a chance to win this game if we don't have somebody like him. (Kentucky's) so athletically gifted, and Devan is big for us."

With just over ten seconds remaining in the game, Raley-Ross stepped to the free throw line to attempt the biggest foul shots of his career. The senior guard sank both, and the Gamecock defense held on for the win.

"This was the first time that everybody else did what they can do," said Horn. "Raley-Ross was amazing offensively tonight with big shots down the stretch. Sam Muldrow (contributed) with five blocked shots and Austin Steed chipped in a few. It's the first time we've had everybody do that (with) Devan (also getting his numbers."

Kentucky scored a season low 62 points, and the Gamecock defense offset the fact that their offense had its third-lowest shooting percentage game of the year.

"They held the ball. They shortened the game. It was more like a 30-minute game. We did miss some plays. We didn't shoot it particularly well either. They made us play the way we played (tonight). They deserved to win."

For now, the Gamecocks and their coach can celebrate a win over the #1 team in the country. However, they know the rest of the SEC schedule waits, and that things aren't going to get any easier.

Horn said that he's happy more than anything at the exposure this win will provide for his program.

"Anytime you beat the No. 1 team on national T.V., it's covered coast to coast and gets exposure for your program," said Horn. "We said from day one we want games like this and to be competitive in them, otherwise there's no reason to be here. It's a good step and gives us something to talk about."

The Georgia Bulldogs are up next, and Downey said that he wants the team and the crowd to build off of this huge win.

"It's really good. It's going to give everybody confidence going into the next game. It's big. It's not only big for us as a team; it's big for the university. We expect a packed house on Saturday."

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