Downey's Game Winner Topples No. 24 Wildcats 78-77 in Thriller

Jan. 31, 2009

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By Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- One week ago, all seemed to be going well for the UK men's basketball team.

The Wildcats were undefeated in the conference, they had won 11 of their last 12 games and they had strongly asserted themselves as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference.

Then a loss at Ole Miss shook the first-place foundation and now a game-winning jumper from South Carolina guard Devan Downey has sent the Wildcats to their first two-game slide since the beginning of the season.

Downey's step-back jumper with 3.2 seconds left on the clock gave South Carolina (16-4, 5-2 SEC) the 78-77 win over UK (16-6, 5-2 SEC) in front of a season-high crowd of 24,322 fans at Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon.

Gillispie said before the game that Downey was nearly "impossible" to guard, but there might be more to the Wildcats' recent tailspin than just the speedy 5-foot-9 guard.

"We had no answer and had nobody who wanted any part of him," Gillispie said. "He is a really good player and played great today. Their guys followed instructions the way they were supposed to and that is why they played tougher and smarter than us and that is why they won."

The Wildcats have to get tougher, smarter and take better care of the ball, Gillispie said, if the Wildcats are going to get better, and the stat sheet made that pretty clear Saturday afternoon. Thanks to 18 offensive rebounds and 21 UK turnovers, the Gamecocks had 28 more field goals attempts from the field.

"We are just not playing very tough and there are always going to be games that you are not pleased with and in January you have to keep getting better," Gillispie said. "We have taken two major steps backwards and to give up 18 offensive rebounds today when we knew it was going to be the key factor in the game, is not good."

Still, credit Downey with the final nail in the coffin to UK's first back-to-back losses in nearly three months.

With Jodie Meeks back in the game and heating up (he sat out most of the half with two fouls), and the Wildcats leading by 10 with just over 15 minutes to go, it appeared the Wildcats had the game on cruise control.

But nobody in the SEC - and maybe the nation - can gun it faster from zero to 60 than Downey.
Saturday's game had no shortage of eye-opening, momentum-changing plays, but Downey's ability to sink the big shots stole the final headline. Downey's personal 7-0 run during the second half was part of a 13-0 South Carolina run that gave the Gamecocks a 63-58 lead. 

"The kid has a huge heart and wants to win so badly," South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn said. "We have been telling our guys since the day I got here that you have to earn the right to deserve to win games like this. You have to be willing to pay the price and sacrifice is a part of anything. No one works harder than Devan Downey."

UK traded leads with South Carolina six times in the final minutes and even had a three-point lead on a  dunk - UK's fourth straight - from sophomore Patrick Patterson.

After junior Perry Stevenson missed a pair of free throws, South Carolina had a chance to win the game with 22 seconds left. Trailing 77-76, Downey drove down the left side of the lane, stepped back and hit nothing but net on an eight-foot jumper.

"It was a great college basketball game, which is really what it was," Horn said. "Neither team wanted to lose. Both teams really played their guts out. We were really fortunate to make the last play and we were able to get the win."

Meeks, who scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime, had a halfcourt heave as time expired, but his shot nailed the front of the iron, giving South Carolina its first win in Lexington since 1997.

"It's not about me, it's about this program," Downey said. "This is a big win for this program period. We knew we had to get this one. My hat's off to my teammates because they just battled. We went down five and eight, and we just kept battling. I kind of came off struggling. Everyone patted me on the back and said, 'Get your head in the game. We need you.' they just believe in me and I couldn't let them down."

When Downey was down - which wasn't long - South Carolina Zam Fredrick picked up the pace with a team-high 24 points.

Fredrick and Patterson went back and forth in the first half, but UK staked a 37-36 halftime lead. The Wildcats opened the lead up to 10 when both Patterson (28 points, seven rebounds) and Meeks (20 points) got going early in the second half, but UK was unable to close it out down the stretch.

Saddled with two straight losses, Gillispie said UK has to quickly find some toughness. They got a personal demonstration on Saturday from Downey on what that's all about.

"We haven't been playing perfect by any stretch of the imagination before and there are always things that you can improve on even if you win," Gillispie said. "If they didn't make that last basket we still made the same mistakes today, but they did and it is much more maximized when you lose. If we don't find some toughness somewhere in our defensive rebounding, then it is going to be a long rest of the conference season."

UK will return to action Tuesday against Mississippi State at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena.