Story by Pat Daniel
A three game homestand that started February 6th with great hope coming off a win at Florida ended with Ole Miss taking a broom to what was left of USC’s postseason hopes. The Rebels defeated the Gamecocks Saturday night at the Colonial Life Arena 81-74 handing the Gamecocks their third straight loss on the homestand. Mississippi State and Alabama also came into Columbia and left with victories.
The Gamecocks have lost seven of their last nine games and are 5-9 overall and 3-7. The Rebels won their fourth straight and for just the third time in 16 trips to Columbia.
Poor shooting, careless turnovers and a lack of inside presence doomed the Gamecocks. Irmo native Devontae Shuler was a one man wrecking crew for Ole Miss. In front of a large contingency of family and friends, Shuler filled up the stat sheet with a career high 31 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. AJ Lawson led the way for the Gamecocks, scoring 22 points to go along with 7 rebounds.
But offensive inefficiency continued to hamper Frank Martin’s team as the Gamecocks shot only 40% from the field and routinely settled for contested jumpers from the perimeter. Although Lawson had 22 points, he was only 6-19 from the field. Wildens Leveque was a bright spot for the Gamecocks shooting making 6 of 7 shots and finishing with a career high 13 points. Trae Hannibal added 12 points.
The Gamecocks played most of the game without starting guard and third leading scorer Jermaine Couisnard. He went out of the game in the early minutes with a foot injury and did not return.
USC struggled out of the gate not scoring until the 15:04 mark in the opening half. Ole Miss controlled the paint, limiting the Gamecocks to one possession trips much of the first half along with heavily contested outside jumpers and very few drives to the basket. Ole Miss led 36-28 at halftime.
The second half was all Ole Miss the first 14 minutes as the Rebels stretched the lead to 70-52 with 5:45 remaining and seemed to be in complete control. The Gamecocks then locked down on defense not allowing an Ole Miss field goal the rest of the game, but the Rebels were clutch from the free throw line. They finished the night 34-44 at the stripe.
South Carolina closed the gap to 79-74 with :15 remaining and had possession of the ball, but an off-balance missed shot by TJ Moss gave the ball back to the Rebels. Shuler iced the game with two free throws.