COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Freshman Jermaine Couisnard made the most of his first college start. His success against No. 10 Kentucky could mean bigger things ahead for South Carolina.
Couisnard had a career-high 26 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, and South Carolina (9-7, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) stunned No. 10 Kentucky 81-78 on Wednesday night.
Couisnard had options on the final possession after the Wildcats tied things at 78-all with 4.1 seconds left. But he rushed up the left side of the court and sent up a shot that banked off the backboard and went through.
The basket touched off pandemonium at Colonial Life Arena as Couisnard tried to outrun his teammates before they caught him for hugs and congratulations.
“I was trying to play tag with my teammates. They’d go one way and I’d go the other,” he said. “They finally caught me. I was trying to have fun, to enjoy the moment.”
Couisnard was given options on the final play by Gamecocks coach Frank Martin.
“Jermaine was going to get that shot,” Martin said. “He wasn’t going to be denied.”
At first, Couisnard said, “I thought it was an airball.”
Instead, it was the first big moment for a player who’s turning into the generator Martin needs at point guard. He had 17 of his points in the second half to spur a rally from 14 points down against the Wildcats (12-4, 3-1).
The position had been a sticking point for Martin this season, trying to get more consistent play from junior Jair Bolden and even having leading scorer A.J. Lawson run the offense at times.
Couisnard, though, brings courage and personality to the team, Martin said, unafraid to make plays and do whatever is necessary for South Carolina.
“Jermaine’s becoming the hearbeat of our team,” Martin said.
Moments before Couisnard’s dramatic shot, Immanuel Quickly banked home a shot with 4.1 seconds to go that tied things at 78. Quickly led Kentucky with 20 points.
Keyshawn Bryant scored 15 points for the Gamecocks, who had four players in double figures.
Kentucky led by 14 less than five minutes into the second half and was still up 54-41 on EJ Montgomery’s two foul shots with 11:41 left.
That’s when Justin Minaya started a 27-14 run over the next seven minutes that ended with Couisnard’s basket off the glass to tie things at 68-all.
After Ashton Hagans put Kentucky up again with two foul shots, Minaya answered with a 3-pointer that sent the crowd into pandemonium.
Minaya added two more baskets between a drive by Lawson and South Carolina was ahead 76-71 with 1:46 to go.
Kentucky tied it a final time on Quickly’s jumper after Lawson missed two foul shots with a chance to seal the game.
Kentucky coach John Calipari liked his team’s play for the first 30 minutes, but his team failed to put away the Gamecocks when it had the chance.
“I though when we had them up 14, ‘Let’s get 20,'” Calipari said. “But they never stopped.”
South Carolina ended a three-game losing streak against Kentucky. The Gamecocks past five wins over the Wildcats since 2009 have all come at Colonial Life Arena.
It was impossible to imagine South Carolina winning after an awful first half where it missed its first 10 shots and was shooting less than 25 percent from the field.
THE BIG PICTURE
Kentucky: The Wildcats had four players in double figures and seemed to have the game in control. But they missed eight of their final 10 shots.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks entered this one on a three-game losing streak that included a dreadful home defeat to Stetson. But on the plus side, they’ve now beaten a pair of top-10 teams. They topped Virginia on Dec. 22.
Calipari was bothered by his team’s lack of discipline and that it played like freelancers doing their own thing instead of as a team. Hagans went 2 of 10 from the field with five turnovers. Another starter in EJ Montgomery was just 1 of 4. Both players fouled out.
“The lack of discipline that we have, especially with guys doing their own thing,” Calipari said. “You can’t play that way in a big-time game.”
South Carolina outrebounded Kentucky overall 43-41, but doubled them up in offensive rebounding, 20-10. Martin said his players are learning how to play college basketball and the lessons are showing up on the court.
Kentucky plays at Arkansas on Saturday.
South Carolina travels to Texas A&M on Saturday.
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