COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s Maik Kotsar swished four free throws in the final 21 seconds to deliver an improbable 63-61 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
“Kotsar last year would avoid getting fouled because he did not want to shoot a free throw,” coach Frank Martin said. “Then he has the courage to hit four, and they weren’t Hail Marys. They were all in the bottom of the net.”
Trailing 60-59 with 1:15 to play, the Gamecocks (16-9, 8-4 SEC) were kicking themselves for their own mistakes. One of the nation’s worst teams at fouling and shooting free throws was once again living up to its twin reputation, with 24 fouls and 13 misses from the line.
Yet, after Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi turned the ball over and Jordan Bowden had to foul Kotsar, South Caorlina’s senior forward, to prevent a fast break. Kotsar calmly swished two free throws for a one-point lead.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking much. I just knew I had to make them,” said Kotsar, who led the Gamecocks with 13 points. “Just tried to take my time, tried not to rush it.”
Tennessee’s John Fulkerson, who scored a career-high 25 points, then was whistled for charging into South Carolina’s Keyshawn Bryant. Fulkerson had drawn a charge on South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson to clinch a 56-55 win in Knoxville on Jan. 11.
Kotsar was again flawless from the line, and Martin elected to intentionally foul with a three-point lead. Guard Josiah-Jordan James made his first free throw, then threw the second attempt hard into the front of the rim.
He rebounded it but was forced to shoot from the side of the court with less than four seconds to play. He missed to send the Volunteers (14-11, 6-6) to their third loss in five games.
“They finished it the way they wanted to and we didn’t,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We needed to make one offensive play and we didn’t do it. And they did.”
Tennessee: The Volunteers’ NCAA tournament hopes took a hit but they can still get back onto the bubble down the stretch. They play Auburn twice and Kentucky once in their last six games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won eight of 11 and can see the postseason glowing. They’re playing confidently even without Justin Minaya, out until at least March with a thumb injury.
Former South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier was recognized during a timeout. The timing was interesting considering South Carolina received a notice of allegations from the NCAA on Thursday, which mentioned Dozier.
Former assistant coach Lamont Evans is alleged to have accepted bribes from a sports agency representative to steer Dozier toward that agency. Martin, South Carolina nor Dozier were alleged to have committed any NCAA violation in the notice.
Martin said he is confident that nothing will reflect negatively on South Carolina, or threaten accomplishments from Dozier’s teams. He was the point guard during the Gamecocks’ run to the 2017 Final Four.
“This is an isolated matter about a one-time visit between a guy that I brought into the business and the people that got in trouble,” Martin said. “It does not involve any of our student-athletes, it does not involve our staff.”
NOT SO FAST
The Gamecocks and Volunteers combined for 52 fouls.
In the game in Knoxville, they had 51.
Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt Tuesday in a quick turnaround. The Commodores are living in the basement of the SEC standings.
South Carolina is at Mississippi State on Wednesday. It will be the first of two games with the Bulldogs over 13 days.