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November 7, 2008

Downey takes over; Gamecocks spurt ahead

He's the point guard. He's supposed to lead.

But Devan Downey's more than the guy that's supposed to lead.

He's South Carolina's leader, proven once again during Friday's 75-55 exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan.

"I felt like I had to get a little aggressive," he said, after scoring a team-high 19 points, 14 in the second half. "As a point guard, that's the leader of the team. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win."

The Gamecocks were enjoying a 16-point lead at halftime but the Panthers whittled it to one with 12:36 to play. Zam Fredrick aced 4-of-6 free throws to push the lead back to seven with just over 10 minutes to go, but Kentucky Wesleyan wouldn't go away.

So that 5-foot-9 little engine that could hitched up his baggy shorts one more time and took over his team.

He swiped a ball and sprinted downcourt, flashing those yo-yo arms up and under for a lay-up and a foul. The whistle blew and Downey was down on the floor, thumping his chest with his right fist.

The free throw nestled through the nylon and the Panthers were on the move again, until Downey once again shot in front of a pass and took it the other way. He hesitated at the top of the key, just for a second, before threading the ball to Austin Steed for an easy bunny.

Just like that, 57-45.

No worries.

Thank you, Devan Downey.

He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds (seven defensive), four assists, four steals and three turnovers. Nothing too heavy for a guy that was named to the 50-man watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the nation's best player, on the same day.

And when it was over, he sat back and said he and his team should have played better, refusing to credit himself. Of course he said it was the first game of a new system, but there was a lot of room for improvement.

"Any time you're starting a new system, you really can't expect stuff to be perfect," Downey said. "Some was good, some was bad. Everything's new to us. They made a run, we responded."

Coach Darrin Horn credited his team's defense, explaining that the two consecutive steals were products of other players trapping and throwing obstacles at the ball-handler. Still, he pointed out how vital Downey was to the team's success - an adage that will doubtless be repeated several times this year.

"We've been on Devan all fall," Horn said. "Those are the kind of steals we want him to get, within the concept of what we're trying to do. We were glad to see them.

"That's obviously one of the things that makes him a good player, and very important to us -- he can make plays on both ends. But I'm really happy that it was a result of our team defense tonight and him doing it within our team concept. I thought it was really good."

Horn could simply hand the ball to Downey and tell him to go, but that wouldn't fit the pattern of what he's trying to install at USC. The days of a one-man show in college basketball are long gone.

But having one to take over a game when the team is facing an inspired opponent is always a good hole card.

"The one thing that impresses me about him is he controls the game," Kentucky Wesleyan coach Todd Lee said. "He controls the game and the tempo of the game. I like his poise. I like the way he runs the team."

He's not the only one.



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