March 8, 2018 9:44:43 AM
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Silva didn't have his usual energy level on Wednesday night, at least in the eyes of South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin.
If that was an off night for Silva, then the Gamecocks are in good hands moving forward in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Led by Silva's 21 points and 11 rebounds, 11th-seeded South Carolina (17-15) rallied from five points down in the second half to defeat 14th-seeded Ole Miss 85-84 in the opening round of the tournament Wednesday night.
"(Silva) didn't have a lot of energy," Martin said. "I don't know if he didn't sleep well or didn't eat well. I don't know. Maybe he doesn't feel well. He's too good a kid. He doesn't tell you. He just goes out there and tries to do his best."
The win wasn't nearly as memorable as last year's Final Four run for South Carolina, but it was a first step toward what the Gamecocks hope is miracle five-games-in-five-days run through the SEC that results in a second-straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Silva was one of five players to score in double figures for South Carolina, which led by as many as nine points in the first half. Frank Booker also scored 21 points, and Justin Minaya had 16. Maik Kotsar added 14 points and Wesley Myers 10 in the win for South Carolina, which will face No. 6 seed Arkansas today.
Despite the comfortable first-half margin for South Carolina, the closing minutes were anything but secure. After falling behind by as many as five points midway through the second half, the Gamecocks used a late 16-4 run to take control -- before holding off an inspired effort from the Rebels (12-20) in the closing minute.
Breein Tyree scored 18 points to lead the 14th-seeded Rebels, who lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games to end the season and finished their season without former coach Andy Kennedy.
Terence Davis added 16 points, while Bruce Stevens had 15 and Deandre Burnett 13 for Ole Miss.
Booker put South Carolina up 85-81 with a free throw with 13.4 seconds remaining. Stevens answered with a 3-pointer on the other end, but it came at the buzzer.
"Your coach leaves with basically four regular season games left, and it's one of those deals that we had to try and rally around each other, stay positive, stay together, and they did a good job of that," Ole Miss interim coach Tony Madlock said. "I'm just so proud of those guys."
Ole Miss was playing its fifth game without Kennedy, who made his resignation effective immediately a day following a loss at Mississippi State on Feb. 18. After responding with an overtime victory against Missouri the game following Kennedy's departure, Ole Miss lost its final four games of the season.
Silva attempted 16 of his career-high 20 free throws in the second half, scoring the first five points of the half from the line and helping the Gamecocks withstand the early second-half run by the Rebels. The senior entered the game fourth nationally in free throw attempts, and he topped his previous bests in makes (11) and attempts (14) -- both which came in the loss to Ole Miss on Dec. 31.
"They (were) doubling on me, but the guards was just doing a really good job trying to find me, trying to give me the ball," Silva said. "I was trying to finish."
n Southern Mississippi 69, FIU 68: At Frisco, Texas, Cortez Edwards scored 29 points with seven rebounds and six assists and Southern Mississippi held on to edge Florida International on Wednesday night in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.
No. 9 seed Southern Miss (15-17) will face top-seeded Middle Tennessee today in the quarterfinals.
The teams were tied at 55 with 2 minutes, 51 seconds to play when a Dominic Magee free throw gave Southern Miss the lead for good, and an Edwards layup followed by a D'Angelo Richardson 3-pointer, stretched it to 61-57 with 1:45 left. FIU stayed close and Brian Beard Jr. sank a 3-pointer as time expired for the final score.
Richardson added 11 points for the Golden Eagles and Magee led the team with 14 rebounds and scored nine points.
Beard led the No. 8 seed Golden Panthers (14-18) with 30 points and seven assists.
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