COLUMBIA --- Shortly before the Southeastern Conference's start in January, Devan Downey met with South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, who clicked on tape of his star guard's all-out play from a year ago.
Back then, the 5-foot-9 Downey played each game with something to prove and convinced all who watched of his enormous talent as he led the Gamecocks to a surprising tie with Tennessee for the league's Eastern Division title. That Downey, the relentless, fierce competitor who would back down to no one, hadn't yet shown up this year.
"You need to go find that guy," Horn challenged.
"Hopefully," Downey says with a grin, "I've found him."
That's apparent to anyone who watched Downey and the Gamecocks take down No. 1 Kentucky.
The smallish senior point guard has been all but unstoppable in the SEC. The league's leading scorer overall at 22.9 points a game, Downey's gone for nearly 32 a game in seven SEC contests, a rate rarely seen since Pete Maravich averaged an NCAA record 44.5 points for LSU in 1970.
Downey scored 30 against Kentucky on Jan. 26 while outplaying Wildcats freshman star John Wall. He followed that up four nights later with 33, including nine of South Carolina's final 11 points in a 78-77 comeback win over Georgia.
South Carolina (13-8, 4-3) and Downey try to continue their surge today at No. 14 Tennessee.
The Gamecocks entered this season confident of its first NCAA bid since 2004. But two veteran teammates -- forwards Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes -- were knocked out before the New Year. Archie, a former Josey standout, to a knee injury and Holmes for violating team rules.
Suddenly, Downey was alone, "the Gamecocks' first, second and third options," as Horn likes to say, surrounded by newcomers and little-used returnees.
Then came his heart-to-heart with Horn, who Downey said "always speaks the truth." Downey discovered his competitive fire and, ever since, says the basket looks "like it's 10 feet wide."