The biggest play of South Carolina’s season was preceded by a subtle transaction. One can find it buried deep in the game book of USC’s dramatic 71-69 win against Florida on Saturday night.
SUB IN: HAASE, Felipe
SUB OUT: KOTSAR, Maik
The Gamecocks, down by as many as 14 points to the favored Gators, had rallied to take a 69-68 lead with three seconds remaining. UF center Kevarrius Hayes had just missed the first of two free throw attempts when USC coach Frank Martin called timeout.
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Carolina needed a plan for both scenarios. Another Hayes miss and the Gamecocks were a rebound away from victory. But if Hayes made it, the Gamecocks would be forced to in-bound the ball under their own basket in a tied game.
Martin stressed the latter of the possible outcomes in the huddle. USC had practiced this before. It’s the “home run play,” a baseball pass from Maik Kotsar to an open man.
Except Kotsar knew he wasn’t capable of playing quarterback in this moment. He spoke up about a hidden pain.
“I can’t make the pass,” the 6-foot-11, 264-pound junior told Martin. “My shoulder hurts.”
Without much time to think it over, Martin turned to Haase to relive Kotsar. Haase is a strong 6-9, 253-pounder — but what happened next was a first in his USC career.
“Not in practice,” Martin said. “Maik’s the guy I usually have make that play. I had never asked Felipe to make it. I’m telling you, for Maik to be so unselfish, to make the statement he made during the timeout and then for Felipe to get subbed in and to have the courage to make the pass, says a lot about those two kids.”
Chris Silva, who has the body of an NFL tight end, created space beyond two Florida defenders, caught Haase’s pass and dunked home the game-winner with 2.5 seconds left.
A “dime” is the term Hassani Gravett used to describe Haase’s only assist of the night.
“I didn’t think he’d have the courage to throw it,” Silva said. “But he did.”
Another option was for Haase to find Gravett around half-court. The senior would catch, and have a few precious seconds to get a shot up. But that was well-covered, forcing the long ball to Silva. The 6-9 forward rubbed off Hayes and out-jumped the 6-5 Keyontae Johnson to make the grab. The rest was easy.
“Somebody was open first in the backcourt before Silva was open,” said Florida coach Mike White. “We thought they’d be preparing for a zone press we’d been playing the whole game, so we went with the man press and unfortunately it was the wrong call.”
Martin’s tried that play twice before in his coaching career — once at Miami Senior High School in the 1990s and again while in charge of Kansas State.
It finally worked.
“Over the top like that,” Martin said, “it’s the first time we’ve done that, yes.”
The Gamecocks are 1-0 in the SEC.
“They executed it to perfection,” White said. “It was a great play, great pass, great seal.
“They were prepared for it and it won them the game.”