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Thursday, March 8, 2012
Rapid Reax: Alabama 63, South Carolina 57

By David Helman

NEW ORLEANS -- Of Alabama's seven conference losses, the unquestionable lowlight had to be a 56-54 upset at the hands of last-place South Carolina. The Crimson Tide got revenge for that January setback on Thursday at the SEC tournament, but Thursday's 63-57 win didn't come without a fight. The win offset a disappointing nine-point loss to Ole Miss to close the regular season, but a dogfight with the conference's worst team doesn't exactly inspire confidence. The Gamecocks' season comes to a merciful close after they endured three separate SEC losing streaks of four, five and six games, respectively.

Alabama appeared to be cruising when the game went to halftime. The Tide led by 11 and had the statistical edge in nearly every category, particularly a team shooting percentage of 52. But by riding their 3-point shooting, the Gamecocks surged back into contention. Alabama pushed the lead to as much as 10 points in the second half, but South Carolina connected on 8 of 24 3-pointers to keep things close.

The Gamecocks made a run at the lead with 7:30 remaining, when Brenton Williams sank consecutive 3-pointers, tying the score at 51.

Turning point: The teams battled down the stretch, with Alabama's lead hovering at four points or fewer throughout the final six minutes. A beautiful layup from Bruce Ellington, who broke Bama's hearts in the teams' first meeting, cut the lead to two points with just more than a minute remaining. With the game entering its final minute, the Tide's Andrew Steele found Trevor Lacey at the top of the arc. Lacey picked quite a time to hit Alabama's only 3-pointer of the afternoon, as he connected to give the Tide a five-point lead with 45 seconds left.

Key player: Lacey saw the court for only 17 minutes against the Gamecocks, but that was all the time he needed to lead all scorers with 15 points. The freshman found most of his production in the lane, as he cut through the South Carolina defense for three baskets, and worked his way to the free throw line six times. But when the Crimson Tide needed a basket, Lacey delivered from outside with his clinching 3-pointer.

Key stat: 82.8. The Crimson Tide took a whopping 29 trips to the free throw line against the Gamecocks, connecting on 24. South Carolina had a measly six attempts.

Miscellaneous: JaMychal Green showed why Alabama struggled so much during his four-game absence in February as a result of a suspension. Green played 33 minutes for the Crimson Tide and finished with 12 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks. Green's thunderous block on R.J. Slawson at the 12-minute mark of the second half was perhaps the highlight of the game until Lacey's big shot.

What's next: Alabama has a rematch with No. 4 seed Florida at 2:30 p.m. The Gators downed the Tide 61-52 on Valentine's Day -- although Alabama was missing Green at the time. South Carolina concludes its season with a 10-21 record. The only question remaining for the Gamecocks is whether coach Darrin Horn will keep his job.