COLUMBIA -- Devan Downey's game-winning shot stayed that way this time.
Downey swished a 3-pointer and made the ensuing free throw to cap a 29-point performance in a rallying 67-65 win over Alabama on Saturday. Exactly a week after Downey nailed the go-ahead bucket against Vanderbilt, only to watch Jermaine Beal beat the Gamecocks with the game-winner less than six seconds later, the redshirt sophomore was finally able to kick back and enjoy the moment, not like all those other times when his epic scoring games still ended as losses.
"It was a designed play that broke down," Downey said, admitting the shot wasn't the plan coming out of the huddle. "I went for option B."
The win, after the heartbreaker to Vanderbilt and a listless thumping at Georgia, lifted the Gamecocks out of their doldrums and gave a sizable crowd a well-earned sigh of relief. It also pushed USC (12-12, 4-6) out of last place in the SEC East.
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And that arguably the program's greatest player, John Roche, was in the house to be honored as part of the program's centennial made it all the more enjoyable.
"It was a big night for Gamecock basketball tonight, no question about that," coach Dave Odom said. "Just wonderful to see everything come together at this time."
It was shaping up to be another of those endless sour gamedays when Alabama's Mykal Riley drained a 3-pointer to wipe out a USC lead. Down 64-63 with the ball and 1:10 to go, USC lost possession when Dominique Archie flipped a pass that was easily intercepted.
Knowing all the Crimson Tide (14-12, 3-8) had to do was get the ball inside to Richard Hendrix or wait for Riley to get open, the Gamecocks locked down on defense and forced Mikhail Torrance to try a short jumper. He missed, Hendrix grabbed the rebound and was fouled as he went up for a putback.
On the line for two shots, the crowd lustily booing him for a previous altercation with Mike Holmes, Hendrix missed his first shot. He iced the second and USC moved to halfcourt, calling a quick timeout.
The Gamecocks worked the ball around the perimeter until 15 seconds showed and Downey found it in his hand. He was at least two feet behind the 3-point line and there was only a fraction of a second to shoot, but Downey rose up anyway, Torrance's hand slapping his arm as jumped.
The ball dove through the net and Downey spun around, pumping his fist as the Colonial Center showered its hero with cheers. Then he composed himself, sank the free throw and hounded Riley on the other end, intent on denying him the ball.
Alabama's last chance became Riley's pass to Brandon Hollinger, which was off the mark and out of bounds. A last-second 3-pointer fired after the buzzer rimmed out and the Gamecocks joyfully headed to the locker room.
A scoring battle between Downey and Riley (28 points, including a school record-tying eight 3-pointers) had two subplots -- defense and what might have been Holmes' coming-out party. Downey added to his nation-leading steals-per-game average with seven swipes and the Gamecocks played their best man defense of the season on the last possession.
As for Holmes, it was easily the freshman's best game of the season. After playing the first 24 games and hardly ever shedding that "great potential" tag, Holmes scored 10 points with eight rebounds and only three fouls, hitting a turnaround jumper at the 3:08 mark to give USC its last lead before Downey's game-winner.