COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Malik Cooke scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as South Carolina rallied past South Carolina Upstate 72-66 on Saturday. It was the Gamecocks' third consecutive win and fifth in the past six games.
South Carolina (7-6) moved above .500 for the first time since starting the season with a 75-50 win over Western Carolina. Not that this victory came easy.
The Gamecocks lost a 12-point lead and trailed SC Upstate (8-6) 47-46 on Ricardo Glenn's layup with 13:02 to go. But Cooke answered with two foul shots and South Carolina did not trail again.
Glenn's foul shot drew the Spartans within 68-66 with 45 seconds to go. But again it was Cooke who pulled the Gamecocks out of the fire the next time down the court, tipping back a missed shot to extend the margin with 31 seconds left.
Torrey Craig led SC Upstate with 20 points.
Brenton Williams had 11 points and RJ Slawson 10 for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks had been on a roll the past month since a Dec. 1 loss to Providence dropped them to 2-5. They came into Saturday's game having won four of five -- the lone loss was 74-66 to No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 17 -- and with an improved offensive flow thanks to two-sport sophomore Bruce Ellington, who was back after finishing the football regular season.
Ellington had his best showing of the season last Wednesday night with 17 points in a 57-45 win over Wofford. But Ellington left for the Capital One Bowl the next day to rejoin Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks, and there was plenty of concern about whether the basketball team's flow would leave with him.
South Carolina looked ragged early in front of a sparse crowd, with many of its fans on their way to Orlando, Fla., for Monday's bowl game with Nebraska. The Gamecocks also had to battle a scrappy Upstate group seeking its third straight win.
Ty Greene had a high-arcing 3-pointer and another basket to put the Spartans up 8-6. SC Upstate was down just 16-14 on Jodd Maxey's basket when the Gamecocks took off on a 21-11 run to take control. Cooke had two baskets, Eric Smith a three-point play and a jumper and Brian Richardson his first 3-pointer in five games as South Carolina led 37-25 with 4 minutes left in the period.
Glenn's basket with 39 seconds left cut South Carolina's edge to 40-31 at the half.
One place the Spartans had an edge was on the offensive boards, where they held a 7-4 advantage in the opening half.
The Spartans kept up their intensity in the second half, starting it with a 16-6 run that put them in front. They tied the game a final time at 52-all on Chalmers Rogers' bucket with 9:29 to go before Brian Richardson gave the Gamecocks the lead for good with a 3-pointer.
It looked like Cooke's three-point play with 3 minutes left, which put South Carolina ahead 66-59, would seal things until Craig hit a 3 and Jodd Moxey finished a three-point play to bring the Spartans within a point, 66-65. Cooke had two more foul shots and his tip-in bucket after that.
Cooke surpassed his previous high of 22 points, set against Tennessee last February.