On his much-ballyhooed homecoming, South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn did not complicate the situation. Put the ball in Devan Downey's hands. Let him decide who wins and loses.
"Essentially, that was the concept," Horn said. "To me, that's a pretty good thing to do because he's pretty good at it."
Then Horn, the former star at Tates Creek High School, added, "You can coach them too much sometimes."
Downey, an All-Southeastern Conference player last season, made simplicity the ultimate sophistication (to quote Leonardo da Vinci). His 12-foot fade-away inside the final five seconds gave South Carolina a 78-77 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.
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Downey, who scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half, hit the shot over UK's best perimeter defender, Jodie Meeks.
"It was a little step-back on Jodie," UK big man Patrick Patterson said of Downey's shot. "That's his bread and butter."
Though Meeks had to contend with a screen while trying to smother the league's most elusive player, Billy Gillispie saw imperfection. "I thought we gave him too much space," the UK coach said.
That wasn't the first time Gillispie found Kentucky's play wanting. Nor the last, despite only 3.2 seconds remaining after Downey's shot.
After two timeouts, UK tried to draw the South Carolina player guarding the inbounds pass into a charge. Think the non-call against Georgia's Albert Jackson in last year's SEC Tournament. This time, sophomore Sam Muldrow avoided Meeks and the possibility of a charge.
A non-call was supposed to trigger a timeout. But inbounds man Perry Stevenson threw the ball to Meeks anyway.
"I just figured Jodie could get the ball to midcourt," Stevenson said.
Meeks got that done, but his halfcourt heave at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.
UK suffered a second straight loss while falling to 16-6 overall and 5-2 in the SEC.
South Carolina, which gained its first league road victory, improved to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the SEC.
With the teams exchanging runs, a memorable collaboration between Meeks and Patterson put UK ahead inside the final three minutes. Meeks cut backdoor, and Patterson found him with a bounce pass. Muldrow met Meeks at the basket, but somehow the dunk attempt/block attempt nestled in the basket.
The three-point play put Kentucky ahead 71-69 with 2:41 left.
Downey answered with a three-pointer from the right wing.
"I felt my team needed me," he said of his 19 second-half points. "I had to step up."
Kentucky led 77-74 when Meeks made two free throws with 41.2 seconds left. With UK understandably concerned with Downey, Dominique Archie drove through a broken floor for an uncontested layup with 32.6 seconds left.
"We stood there and let them drive the length of the court without making any effort to make any block," Gillispie said. "After we took the ball out of (Downey's) hands, who had been the most dominant player in the game."
Two missed free throws by Stevenson (the ninth-best foul shooter in league play) with 29.6 seconds left gave South Carolina an unlikely opening. UK had made 24 of 27 free throws to that point.
After a timeout with 22.2 seconds left, Downey delivered.
"That kid has a huge heart," Horn said. "He wants to win so badly. You have to earn and deserve to win a game like this. You have to pay the price. ... No one works harder than Devan Downey."
Guarded by a variety of taller defenders (Ramon Harris, Kevin Galloway and DeAndre Liggins primarily), Downey made two shots in the first half. His first basket didn't come until 2:17 remained.
Zam Fredrick, a senior and 1,000-point scorer, picked up the slack. He poured in 16 first-half points en route to a team-high 24.
Meeks made up for lost time in the second half. He hit his first basket — retrieving a loose ball and swishing a three-pointer — with 19:28 left. He scored eight of UK's first 12 points in the half.
Meeks and Patterson combined to score UK's first 21 points of the half, which extended a one-point halftime lead to 54-44 with 15:14 left.
Downey scored seven points in less than 90 seconds to put the Gamecocks ahead 59-58 with 10:31 left.
That set up a stretch run to a dramatic finish.