Gamecocks’ last chance for Big Dance starts with Alabama

South Carolina (10-20 overall, 2-14 SEC) has unquestionably been the weakest team in the Southeastern Conference this season, but one of its two league wins came against Alabama (20-10, 9-7).

Such an upset was possible – and is conceivable in the tournament – because of Alabama’s inability to produce a consistent offense.

Both teams have trouble scoring points: Alabama averages 65.1 points and South Carolina only 61.5. South Carolina won the only regular-season meeting, 56-54 in Columbia. Alabama appears to be in the NCAA tournament, regardless of the outcome, as a likely No. 8 or No. 9 seed.

Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant said his team needs to regain its passion and purpose, which is lacked in the season-ending loss to Ole Miss that cost the team a first-round bye.

The inconsistent Alabama offense, which produced a season low 17 points in the first half against Ole Miss, is led by JaMychal Green (13.8) and guard Trevor Releford (12.0), who were both named to the All-SEC’s second team.

Andrew Steele, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph have also shown moments of offensive spark over the last month since the season-ending suspension of Tony Mitchell. But the Tide win games on defense; they lead the conference at 57.9 points and are second in defensive field goal percentage at 38.7.

The Gamecocks will be trying to recapture the glory of its signature win, when Bruce Ellington’s layup provided a last-second win over the Tide on Jan. 25. Ellington, who missed the first six games while playing football, is the team’s No. 2 scorer at 11.0 points, but is shooting only 35.3 percent from the floor.

Malik Cook, the team’s lone senior, averages a team-leading 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Sophomore Damontre Harris was named to the SEC’s All-Defensive team; he averaged 5.6 rebounds and blocked 70 shots (second in the SEC).

Although the Gamecocks have lost 10 of 11 and suffered through three straight losing seasons, coach Darrin Horn’s job appears to be safe, even if his team is one-and-done.

The winner plays Florida in the second round on Friday.

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