LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Pay no attention to the Devan Downey of the first half. South Carolina's star was ready when it counted.
The former Chester star's turnaround jumper with 3 seconds left lifted the Gamecocks to a 78-77 victory over No. 24 Kentucky on Saturday, just their second win in 23 games on Kentucky's home court.
The junior guard had been largely quiet throughout most of the game, failing to score until the final 2 minutes of the first half. But he awoke in a hurry down the stretch, scoring all but four of his 23 points in the second half, including the critical basket over Kentucky's Jodie Meeks that sealed the win.
"I told my team to collapse around me and I'd take care of them," Downey said.
USC coach Darrin Horn, appearing in a college game in his native Lexington for the first time as a head coach, said he had no hesitation turning to his team's leading scorer at the critical moment.
"I'm not shocked he made that play," Horn said.
Meeks, two weeks removed from setting a Kentucky record with 54 points against Tennessee, got one last shot -- a desperation heave from just in front of the halfcourt line, but it bounced off the rim as time expired.
"I thought it was going in, but it didn't," Meeks said. "What else can you say?"
The other victory for USC (16-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) in Lexington came in 1997. After starting conference play with five straight wins and sneaking into the Top 25 for the first time, the Wildcats (16-6, 5-2) have lost two straight, including Tuesday's loss at Ole Miss.
Based on the crowd noise, it would have seemed Kentucky was pulling away down the stretch as the Wildcats scored on four straight possessions with dunks. But Downey answered two of those baskets with 3-pointers, never allowing Kentucky to pad its lead.
"They were tougher than us and smarter than us," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said.
Trailing 77-76 with 30 seconds left, USC fouled Perry Stevenson to stop the clock. It proved to be the perfect move as Stevenson missed both foul shots to set up Downey's late heroics.
Before that, it appeared the focus of the game was going to be Meeks' highlight-reel one-handed dunk above two defenders off a perfect lane pass from Patrick Patterson, who also had one of the late Kentucky dunks.
Patterson finished with 28 points and Meeks had 20 for the Wildcats.
Zam Fredrick led USC with 24 points, half of them during a thunderous scoring streak in the first half.
The last two points of his streak were free throws after a technical foul was called on Kentucky's bench for complaining at officials when Stevenson was called for fouling Mike Holmes. Holmes would hit one of the ensuing shots, stretching the Gamecocks' lead to nine.
"We needed some offense, and I felt I needed to make stuff happen," Fredrick said. "We knew we had to contest every shot and keep believing."
The technical foul seemed to awaken Kentucky, at least temporarily. Ramon Harris scored on a fastbreak dunk, followed by two layups from Patterson.
Freshman DeAndre Liggins finished the half by beating the buzzer with a closely guarded 3 that put the Wildcats up 37-36. Kentucky stretched the lead to 10 in the second half before Downey caught fire to pull the Gamecocks back in it.
Turnovers continued to plague the Wildcats as they committed 21, compared to 10 for USC.
Kentucky did shoot far better than the Gamecocks, making 52 percent of its shots compared to 42 percent for USC. But the Wildcats weren't as strong from long range, connecting on three, two by Meeks, of eight attempts. Fredrick and Downey combined on seven 3s for USC.
"We need to be tougher and more physical out there," Patterson said. "We rush our opportunities and make careless mistakes."