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Tigers Withstand Run to Claw South Carolina, 64-63
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Tigers Withstand Run to Claw South Carolina, 64-63

Columbia, S.C. - It came down to the wire, but Tennessee State withstood a strong run by South Carolina to pick up a, 64-63, victory over the  Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena in the opening round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.  

Tennessee State (2-2) led by as many as 22 in the second half, but a 38-17 run by South Carolina (1-2) put the Gamecocks within one point with seven seconds remaining in the game.  

TSU was fouled with five seconds left, but the Tigers missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 free throw attempt. South Carolina retained the rebound, but defensive pressure from TSU didn't give the Gamecocks a shooting opportunity.

The victory over the Gamecocks is the first win over an SEC opponent for Tennessee State in 24 attempts. It also marked the first win over a major conference team since Dec. 30, 2007 when TSU upended Illinois, 60-58.

Sunday was a joyous homecoming for Head Coach John Cooper, who spent seven seasons as an assistant at South Carolina.

"It's always good to get a road win," said Cooper. "Certainly to come back here and see friends, family and old faces in the crowd was great. I am proud of our guys to weather the storm. I thought (South Carolina) came out in the second half and out-played us. We found a way to win. It got ugly for us. We found a way to hold on. We had so many lessons from close losses, but we were finally able to get one."

Other assistant coaches had ties to the Gamecocks including former USC player Sheldon Everett and former Gamecocks assistant coach Rick Duckett.

Tennessee State shot 40 percent (21-of-47) from the field for the game, including a stout 52 percent (11-of-21) in the second half. The Tigers connected on 10 3-pointers, shooting 46 percent (10-of-22) from the three-point line.

Three Tigers reached double-figures led by forward Robert Covington with 16 points and nine rebounds. The junior from Bellwood, Illinois reeled in eight defensive boards.

Jordan Cyphers reached a season-high 12 points, draining three treys out of five attempts.

Sophomore guard Patrick Miller added 11 points for the Tigers, dishing out six assists and three steals against USC. Nashville native Wil Peters added eight points and picked up three steals in 34 minutes for the Tigers.

South Carolina went up by four to start the contest when Covington answered with a three-pointer to make it a 4-3 game. TSU took their first lead in the game with 12:59 left after a three pointer from Kharon Butcher. TSU extended their lead to 22-15 with a made free throw by Kenny Moore.

Back-to-back three pointers by the Tigers put TSU up 30-16 with two minutes remaining in the half.

Cyphers hit a triple at the 14:49 mark to give TSU the 47-25 lead over South Carolina. The Tigers made 5-of-6 of their first field goal attempts to start the second half.

South Carolina cut the margin back to 11 points after completing a 13-to-2 run with 10:07 remaining. The Gamecocks pulled within six with 7:47 left after Smith connected on a basket plus the and-1.

Moore added three freebies to extend the Tiger's lead to 58-51 with 4:51 left. Kellen Thornton added a layup to give TSU the seven point cushion.

However, USC wasn't done, adding a layup and plus-one. Peters aced a three-pointer with 3:17 left to put the Tigers up 63-56.

South Carolina roared back as Eric Smith hit back-to-back threes to help the Gamecocks pull within 64-62 with 1:11 left in the game. The Tigers turned the ball over, giving the Gamecocks possession with 31 seconds remaining.

The Gamecocks missed a pair of three pointers before the Tigers gained possession after a free throw shot by R.J. Slawson. South Carolina then picked up another TSU turnover, but couldn't get the near the basket as time expired.

The Tigers forced 16 USC turnovers, committing a season-low 13. The Gamecocks edged the Tigers in rebounds 33-to-28.

TSU returns to action in the Las Vegas Invitational when they play at No. 1 North Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 20. Tip-off is slated for 6:30 p.m. (CT) and is televised nationally on ESPN3.