Nashville, Tenn. --- No. 13 seed Ole Miss (12-20, 3-15 SEC) defeated No. 12 seed South Carolina, 67-61, in the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena.
"So excited for our team," said acting head coach Win Case. "We always talk about happy locker rooms. It's been a tough season for us, but I'd just like to take my hat off to my team. I'm very proud of (them), let's keep moving forward."
Amaree Abram led the Rebels, coming off the bench to contribute 20 points in just 21 minutes of action on the court. Jaemyn Brakefield (16 points, seven rebounds) and James White (10 points, 10 rebounds) also took charge for Ole Miss.
Myles Burns logged six steals, three of them within the first four minutes of play, moving up on the Ole Miss leaderboard for the most steals in a single season with 77, moving up to second behind only Gerald Glass, who recorded 89 in the 1989 season.
The Gamecocks were led by Gregory Jackson II with 24 points and Meechie Johnson with 13 points and five assists as Hayden Brown scored 11.
South Carolina got out to a small lead before Burns began swiping the ball away, assisting consecutive dunks by Matthew Murrell and White to settle the score at four-all about four minutes in. Ole Miss started to slip away, but South Carolina's Hayden Brown slammed a dunk at the 13:27 mark to pull the Gamecocks to within 9-8.
Then White went on to lay two in on back-to-back Ole Miss possessions as he led the Rebels' first-half efforts with six rebounds and six points.
Jackson II drove the basket to tie it at 13 with 10:46 remaining in the first half. Brown rang in another dunk, followed by a Jacobi Wright layup to bring the Gamecocks within one, 30-29, at the halftime buzzer.
Abram made a big difference for the Rebels in the first half, scoring eight off the bench.
At the start of the second, Jackson II wasted no time, with his dunk on the Gamecocks' first second-half possession pushing them ahead briefly, 31-30.
Ole Miss responded quickly as Burns drained a triple to spark an 8-0 run, capped with a dunk by White, to begin pulling away, 39-31
The Gamecocks refused to be silenced as Brown tossed an alley-oop up to Jackson II, who rocked the rim to end the Rebels' streak at the 15:29 mark.
Despite a persistent South Carolina defense, Brakefield drained one from beyond the arc and grabbed an offensive rebound on the next possession to lay another in, extending the Ole Miss advantage to 44-36.
Still, South Carolina would not go away.
A pair of free throws and a 3-pointer by Johnson brought the Gamecocks back within reach, 44-41. Jackson II followed suit, completing a three-point play to match Ole Miss before pushing past them, 46-44, with a layup and 10:27 left to play.
Abram shut down South Carolina's 10-0 run with a 3-pointer as the back-and-forth battle resumed. Abram continued to power Ole Miss as two more triples led a 10-2 run to reclaim a nine-point advantage, 59-50, with 4:46 remaining.
However, Jackson II wouldn't go quietly as he flushed another dunk home to begin the Gamecocks' hot pursuit once again. South Carolina would come within three, 64-61, after Jackson II drained a triple with only just over a minute on the clock.
Ole Miss solidified the 67-61 victory with a jumper by White and a single free throw by Abram, advancing in the tournament.
"We came in here with a clean slate and knew it was going to be a new season," Brakefield said. "We're just trying to come here 0-0 and take each game at its own. We're going to focus on tomorrow starting now."
Ole Miss will face 5-seed Tennessee in the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Game 3 matchup between 8-seed Florida and 9-seed Mississippi State. The game will be aired on SEC Network.
South Carolina (11-21, 4-14 SEC) is eliminated from the tournament.