February 23, 2011 8:44:00 AM
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Darrin Horn has had to play many roles during South Carolina''s month of struggles. On Tuesday night, he got to play the one he enjoys most -- winning coach.
Sam Muldrow had 23 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1 minute, 2 seconds left, as the Gamecocks ended a five-game losing streak with a 79-73 victory against the University of Mississippi. The win brought smiles and high-fives out of his players, something Horn hadn''t seen in a while.
"You''re part coach, part tactician, part dad, part drill sergeant, part psychologist," Horn explained. "We spent a lot of time talking last night about focusing on the next play, competing and playing for each other."
The message took hold for South Carolina (14-12, 5-8 Southeastern Conference), which had lost seven of its past eight games and seemed in free fall the last month.
"We''ve been through a lot," Muldrow said. "It wasn''t fun."
Muldrow''s points tied his career high and he added 10 rebounds to help the Gamecocks build a 69-55 lead with six minutes left.
That''s when the Rebels (17-11, 5-8) went on an 18-4 run, tying the game at 73 on Zach Graham''s layup with 1:21 to go.
Muldrow answered back for South Carolina, striking for his third 3-pointer of the game.
Graham missed a tying 3-pointer on Ole Miss'' next trip and the Gamecocks closed out their first home victory since Jan. 19 with three free throws.
Mississippi''s Chris Warren had a career-high 33 points off eight 3-pointers, also the best showing of the senior''s career.
Warren, though, had the ball stolen by Malik Cooke with 27 seconds left, ending Mississippi''s last chance to close the gap.
The Rebels entered with hopes that a strong finish might get noticed by NCAA tournament selectors in a few weeks. But coach Andy Kennedy said his team''s lackluster play much of the game proved costly.
"The sense of urgency we played with the last five or six minutes, we have to play like that for 40 minutes," Kennedy said. "If you play like that for 40 minutes, it is not a one or two possession game and you''ve got margin for error."
South Carolina shot 20 of 22 foul shots and outrebounded Ole Miss 42-38.
It was hard to determine the bigger surprise -- that South Carolina built such a large lead after its poor play of recent weeks or how quickly it disappeared down the stretch.
South Carolina came in off a horrible, monthlong run. It managed nine first-half points its last game here, a loss to Georgia. In the Gamecocks'' last game at Kentucky, they fell 90-59 -- a contest that wasn''t that close.
But behind Muldrow''s dominance inside and outside, South Carolina grabbed its first halftime lead in six games. Muldrow hit a 3-pointer and a bucket to put the Gamecocks up 69-55 over the confused Rebels.
With Warren on the court, though, Ole Miss is rarely out of it. The SEC''s No. 2 scorer led the rally with a three-point play and his eighth 3-pointer.
Muldrow, though, was the senior with the final response that Warren couldn''t match. It was Muldrow''s sixth game with double-figure points and rebounds.
"We just talked about wanting to be aggressive and make plays," Cooke said.
This one didn''t start so well for South Carolina. Warren, second in SEC scoring average this year, had four 3-pointers the first 9 minutes as Ole Miss led 21-13.
Then the Rebels went cold and the Gamecocks played like they hadn''t in some time with a 16-2 run to move in front. Muldrow hit a 3-pointer to start the run and Brian Richardson kept it going with another 3. When Ramon Galloway followed a short jumper with three foul shots, the Gamecocks were ahead 29-23.
South Carolina ended the half up 38-34, the first time since a 64-56 win against LSU on Feb. 2 that it held the lead at the break.
Ramon Galloway had 15 points for the Gamecocks while Cooke added 13 and Damontre Harris 11.
Horn worried his players might have trouble pushing through problems after so many demoralizing defeats. "But I also think we got some high-character kids that understand what we''re trying to do here," he said.