Freshman Ellington's confident play helps USC

Florida guard Erving Walker tries to drive past South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington during the second half at the O'Connell Center on Saturday. The Gamecocks defeated the Gators, 72-69.

Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 6:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 6:09 p.m.

Bothered by jumper's knee and coming off a dreadful shooting performance from earlier in the week, Bruce Ellington found quite the rhythm inside the O'Connell Center.

Standing just 5-foot-9 and entering only his third-career SEC game, South Carolina's freshman point guard looked liked a seasoned veteran as he guided the Gamecocks (11-5, 2-1 SEC) to a 72-69 win over Florida (13-4, 2-1 SEC) with his game-high 23 points, on 8-of-15 shooting.

"I'm the point guard so you know I have to direct," Ellington said. "Coach (Darrin) Horn told me to go out there and do what I gotta do to help get everybody in the flow."

Besides his shooting fury, Ellington beat the Gators with his quickness and his awareness. When he wasn't slashing to the hoop, he was getting his teammates involved by distributing passes through Florida's defense.

Ellington had eight points at the half, but really turned it on in the second frame. Even after going back into the locker room to get treatment, Ellington stayed in rhythm and seemed to enhance his game from there.

"He's a competitor," Horn said of Ellington. "I don't know that he needs something to happen, but the one thing you can count on him is even if he doesn't play well, he's going to be competing and playing to win."

Ellington wasn't sure what sparked his hot afternoon, but one thing that did fuel him down the stretch was the atmosphere inside the O-Dome.

With the crowd in a frenzy because of the Gators' late, second-half rally, Ellington said he fed off that energy. The louder the crowd got, the more confident Ellington looked.

When Florida tied the game at 59 with 3:10 remaining in the game, Ellington seemed to take over. He drained two jumpers, assisted on another and closed the game out with his four free throws on one-in-one attempts. He scored the Gamecocks' final six points.

His late trips to the foul line were his only visits of the day and they came at the most critical times. With South Carolina up just two with 17 seconds left, Ellington said he didn't feel nervous, just confident. Even with Florida's crowd hounding him, daring him to miss, Ellington calmly sent both shots through the net, crushing Florida's hopes of a comeback.

"I just stepped up and knocked them down," he said.

When he arrived again 12 seconds later, Ellington delivered the same results and his team a victory.

Entering Saturday with a team-high 14.5 points per game, Ellington's performance wasn't a shocker to his coach, but Horn was impressed at how well his young star thrived in different areas on the court.

"I think it was the best game he's played in terms of a complete game," Horn said. "He was efficient offensively. He made stuff happen that was there and took care of the basketball. He really defended — most solid defensive game that he's had."

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