John Cooper returned to South Carolina and left with one of the biggest wins in Tennessee State history.
TSU held on for a 64-63 victory — the school’s first against a Southeastern Conference opponent in 24 tries — in the opening round of the Las Vegas Invitational on Sunday night, knocking off the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C. It was the Tigers’ first win over a BCS conference school since defeating Illinois on Dec. 30, 2007.
Cooper, in his third year as TSU’s head coach, spent seven years as an assistant coach at South Carolina. He watched as his Tigers (2-2) kept the Gamecocks (1-2) from getting a shot off in the last five seconds.
“It’s always good to get a road win,” Cooper said. “Certainly to come back here and see friends, family and old faces in the crowd was great. I am proud of our guys to weather the storm. I thought [South Carolina] came out in the second half and outplayed us. We found a way to win. It got ugly for us. We found a way to hold on.
"We had so many lessons from close losses, but we were finally able to get one.”
TSU led by as many as 22 points in the second half but South Carolina ended on a 38-17 run. After the Tigers missed the front end of a one-and-one from the free-throw line with five seconds left, they held strong on defense.
The Tigers made 10 3-pointers and shot 44.7 percent from the field, including 52.4 percent in the second half. The Gamecocks, who were coming off a loss at Elon, trailed 33-19 at halftime due as they shot just 22.7 percent in the first half.
Robert Covington scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds for TSU. Jordan Cyphers added 12 points and Patrick Miller had 11.
The road doesn’t get any easier as Tennessee State plays at No. 1 North Carolina at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (ESPN3.com).