PHILADELPHIA -- At last, the shot did not fall. At last, the bounce went the other way. At last, a bad foul did not cost so dearly.
At last, USC won a close game.
In a game that went down to the buzzer, the Gamecocks came out on the right side of the scoreboard, defeating Providence 68-67 to tip off the Big East/SEC challenge at the Wachovia Center.
The Gamecocks improved to 5-4 heading into a 13-day layoff. More importantly, they got a confidence-boosting win against a quality opponent after blowing a big lead.
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USC led by as many as 12 points midway through the second half before the wheels came off offensively.
"I did tell the team that winning by one actually will help us down the stretch more than when the game got to 12 if we had been fortunate to run the game out to 15, 18, 20 points, something like that," USC coach Dave Odom said.
The key -- Providence switched out of their typical zone defense and attacked the Gamecocks with a testy man-to-man. The switch came after Brandis Raley-Ross drained a second consecutive 3-point goal to boost USC's lead to 57-46 with 9:04 remaining.
From that point until Devan Downey's weaving layup at the 1:30 mark, USC hit one shot from the field.
"I think it really is a case of be careful what you ask for, because you might get it," Odom said. "They came out of the zone ... and completely shut us down."
The USC dry spell also coincided with the emergence of Providence swing-man Geoffrey McDermott, who scored 10 of his team-high 16 points during the game's final 11 minutes.
With McDermott hitting his shots, guard Jeff Xavier taking over at point to get Downey away from the ball and the man defense inexplicably befuddling the Gamecocks, the Friars closed within 67-66 with 6.1 seconds remaining.
Dominique Archie missed the front-end of a double bonus one second later and the Friars motored down the court in search of a game-tying layup. Weyinmi Efejuku got that opportunity, driving into the paint and colliding with Downey. The ball fell harmlessly off the rim, but Downey was called for a foul with two-tenths of a second remaining.
Downey looked at teammate Zam Fredrick and said, "He's going to miss one."
Fredrick's response: "I hope so."
Such shots had sunk the Gamecocks in three of their four defeats. Not this time. Efejuku missed the first free throw. Needing to miss the second free throw, Efejuku's attempt bounded off the rim and backboard and fell through.
"I kept telling our guys you can't rely on the bounce of the ball," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "(Odom has) had a couple of bounces go against him this year, so he got one tonight. Sometimes those things work out, but you don't want to put yourself in the situation where you're relying on the bounce of the ball."
Downey led all scorers with 21 points. Mike Holmes had 12 while Fredrick and Raley-Ross each had 10.
"We've been in so many close games," Downey said. "Now, we know how to carry ourselves in ball games at the end."