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January 21, 2009Zam Fredrick had just cost South Carolina a tied ballgame.
The least he could do was win it.
Fredrick received a cross-court pass from Mike Holmes after a missed Florida free throw and beat the buzzer by a tenth of a second on Wednesday, leading the Gamecocks to a 70-69 win over No. 24 Florida. Fredrick, who'd clanked a game-tying free throw off the side iron with just over three seconds remaining, beat three Gators downcourt for the game-winner, sending the Colonial Life Arena crowd home happy and posting an incredible start to a three-game homestand.
As for The Garnet Army, the newly named USC student section, it found its general. Fredrick hit the game-winner for the second time this season -- each over a Top 25 team.
"It was a perfect pass. I mean, perfect," Fredrick exulted, deflecting the credit to Holmes. "There wasn't nothing else that could have been done with it. It just happened to be that way.
"It's a blessing to come out on top. Playing as hard as we played, if we'd have lost that game, it would have been a deflator. We're just happy to come out on the winning side."
Fredrick ended with 15 points and was a hero for the second time this season -- he also beat then-No. 19 Baylor with a last-second layup on Jan. 2. He thanked Holmes, he thanked God, he thanked the fates that allowed him to redeem himself after all looked lost.
The others who watched the game thanked him.
"Zam has an incredible memory in that he doesn't have one," coach Darrin Horn said. "He always thinks the next shot's going in. That's one of the things I really like about him.
"I thought he showed tremendous toughness. I don't think he gets enough credit for the toughness he brings to our team, to be honest with you. I don't think he gets enough credit."
Trailing 67-62 after two Devan Downey free throws, 96 seconds to play, USC (13-4, 2-2 SEC) was almost done. The Gamecocks had only hit three field goals in the last eight minutes and Florida (16-3, 3-1) was exploiting every weakness.
Horn's timeouts were used to calm down his troops, shelving most of the strategy talk for simple messages of, "Calm down. Keep believing." The fans, particularly the students in their gaudy garnet-black-white-gray camouflage, were still on their feet, imploring the team for a miracle.
Downey began it with a steal off Florida all-star Nick Calathes and a drive to the hoop. He was fouled before he could shoot and went to the line for a one-and-one.
The junior swished both, part of his team-high 20 points. Then he watched the Gators bleed clock until Calathes, for the umpteenth time, found an open lane on the backdoor and hit a reverse layup.
Down 69-64 with 35 seconds to go, Downey buried a 3-pointer and USC intentionally fouled the first Gator it could reach. Unfortunately, it was Calathes, who'd already scored 20 points and was 12th in the SEC in free-throw percentage (69.9).
But with a chance to ice the game, Calathes missed. Holmes got the board and flipped to Fredrick, who charged into the lane.
Alex Tyus hacked Fredrick before he could shoot and the fifth-year senior was on the line with a chance to tie the game with 4.7 ticks on the clock. Thump, thump. Squeak, squeak. First shot whistled through the net.
The second one came off like a brick instead of a butterfly and clanged off the side. Chandler Parsons corralled the rebound and was immediately fouled.
The Gamecocks talked for a few seconds, Fredrick by himself. Downey figured that even with his backcourt partner's short memory, he could use a pick-me-up.
"I told him to keep his head up," Downey said. "There were three seconds left, we were only down one. Even if they make one of them, it's still a one-possession game."
Walking to the other end for Parsons' free throws, Holmes caught Fredrick's eye.
"I gave him a little head shake, told him to go long," the big sophomore said. "I told him I was going to get the rebound."
The Gamecocks were staring at a loaded gun. There was a chance, yes, but Parsons, a .629 shooter, could make it a two- or three-point game and then USC would have to go 90 feet in under four seconds to get a shot off. Even if Holmes could get the board, the clock would be running and he'd have to get the ball to someone through a forest of Florida arms.
And then somehow, it worked just like it had to.
"In general, that's what we're trying do, but did we draw it up like that?," Horn asked. "No."
Parsons missed and Holmes had it before it hit the floor. He spotted Fredrick beelining for the other hoop and threw, his 6-foot-7 frame muscling the ball exactly into Fredrick's hands.
Clock racing toward zeroes, Fredrick didn't try to get cute. He ran past Walter Hodge, Calathes and finally Dan Werner as his teammates gaped.
No dunk, no stop-and-pop, just run it the same way he'd done it since grade school. To the right, off the glass, through.
Zam Fredrick, take a bow.
"I did look back and saw it go through," he said. "I knew it was going to be good. We just talked about, 'Keep believing.' We knew were going to get an opportunity to shoot another shot."
Downey couldn't believe it when Holmes got the ball. As someone who had seen too many would-be wins turn into devastating losses, he could only watch it unfold.
"To be honest, when Mike first threw the ball, I thought, 'He's shooting?,'" Downey exclaimed. "And then when Zam caught the ball, I said, 'He's fixing to try and dunk!'
"I'm just happy we won. Happy we got the win. I tell you what, man, coach (Steve) Spurrier better call Mike Holmes. That kid has got a cannon."
Holmes, who scored nine points with eight rebounds, modestly accepted the compliment.
"Yeah, they have been kind of struggling and might need someone like me," he said. "Left-handed and 6-7, I might just be interested."
The Gamecocks have until Saturday (Ole Miss visits at 8 p.m.) to study their deficiencies. Florida shot 54 percent, continued beating USC on backdoor cuts and transition and added Calathes to the long list of Florida post players with huge nights in Colonial Life Arena.
"The next part of that is not thinking you've got it all figured out," Horn said. "That'll be continual steps that you have to always take, regardless of where your team is.
"Enjoy it tonight. Tomorrow, we got to get back to work."
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