LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—One-point wins are becoming commonplace for Kentucky.
Erik Daniels had 17 points and nine rebounds, and No. 9 Kentucky used a late defensive stand to hold off No. 25 South Carolina 65-64 on Saturday.
Kentucky (16-3, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) picked up its third one-point victory in SEC play this season. The Wildcats also edged Mississippi State (67-66) and Tennessee (69-68 in overtime).
The Wildcats moved past South Carolina (19-4, 6-3) into first place in the SEC East division. The Wildcats have won 15 of 16 against the Gamecocks.
“Are we cutting it too close? Sometimes,” Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. “This is Kentucky, and everybody is trying to knock us off. When the game is close, we know we have to play defense.”
Antwain Barbour, making his first start of the season, completed a three-point play with 1:09 left to give Kentucky a 65-63 lead. Carlos Powell made 1 of 2 free throws with 57.1 seconds left to pull South Carolina within a point.
Kentucky turned the ball over with 22.5 seconds left, and South Carolina held for the last shot. Hayes trapped Josh Gonner 20 feet from the basket, forcing the Gamecocks to call a timeout with 4.3 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing play, Kerbrell Brown’s 8-foot baseline jumper over the 6-8 Daniels hit the side of the backboard, and Kentucky’s Cliff Hawkins grabbed the loose ball as time expired.
“I thought our team deserved a chance to win the basketball game and we got it,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “That’s what any coach wants—a chance to come in and win the game at the end.”
Hayes added 15 points and 11 rebounds for Kentucky, while Kelenna Azubuike had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Barbour finished with 10 points. Kentucky outrebounded South Carolina 41-26, including 20-8 in the second half, and had 17 offensive rebounds.
“On the offensive rebounds, they annihilated us,” Odom said. “You give up second- and third-chance shots, and they beat you in the backside.”
The game included 11 lead changes, including six in the final eight minutes and three in the final 1:43.
Neither team led by more than six points. Kentucky had held a double-digit lead in 16 of its previous 18 games.
A 3-pointer by Azubuike put Kentucky ahead 62-60, but Mike Boynton’s fourth 3-pointer gave the Gamecocks a 63-62 lead with 1:22 left.
“We work a lot on developing guys to focus and concentrate in those situations,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “And we have older, more experienced players, and those guys have been through big games.
“I have the utmost confidence in our guys when the game is close and we have the chance to pull the game out.”
Boynton and Powell each scored 12 points to lead South Carolina, which shot 5-for-8 from 3-point range in the second half. Renaldo Balkman scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field.
Kentucky won despite the absence of leading scorer Gerald Fitch, who is out indefinitely with a strained ligament in his right (shooting) hand. Backup point guard Brandon Stockton also missed the game because of illness.
South Carolina won only five SEC games last season and hasn’t won more than six league games in the past five seasons. The Gamecocks were picked in the preseason to finish last in the SEC East.
“We take away from this game a feeling that, just maybe, we belong somewhere in a meaningful place in this league,” Odom said.