The Pack ran an undersized, over-matched South Carolina State team off the court on Saturday afternoon at the RBC Center, building as large as a 29-point lead in the second half in route to a 74-49 win over the Bulldogs. Gavin Grant led all scorers with 23 points and seven rebounds while freshman J.J. Hickson added 18 points and eight rebounds.
It was a big win for the Pack because the team desperately needed to get back on track after back-to-back road losses to Michigan State and East Carolina. The loss at ECU combined with a home loss against New Orleans earlier in the season had left plenty of doubt about the Pack's ability to live up to preseason expectations.
"We hadn't won a game in what, like three weeks," Grant said. "Getting a win was the most important thing."
But according to head coach Sidney Lowe, it wasn't just getting the win that mattered. Playing only its third game in as many weeks, the way the Pack played that was just as important as the final score.
"That's a long time to go thinking about losses, you really want to get out there and play the next day if you can to get that thought out of your head," Lowe said. "It was important for us to come out here and not just win, but to do the things I wanted us to do."
The Pack came out of the gate wobbly but quickly got on track with a 19-2 run during the middle of the half to pull out to an 18-point advantage. The Pack buckled down on the defensive end after allowing a quick eight second-chance points, the Pack didn't give up an offensive rebound in the final 15 minutes. Hickson led the way with 16 points in the half on 4-of-6 shooting as the Pack took a comfortable 41-24 lead into the locker room.
"We got some big rebounds so we were able to get out and run and get some easy baskets," Lowe said. "I'd like to do that every game."
Lowe rotated players in and out from the first few minutes of the game and nine different players saw at least 10 minutes of action. Lowe's first substitution came at the 18-minute mark of the first half and he continued to sub guys in and out every couple of minutes during for the entire game.
"It was like a minute into the game – I looked over and was like 'you coming to get me?' Grant said. "I was nervous. But coach had a game plan and he stuck to it. We tried different combinations today, we are going to find the right combination and if not we'll keep mixing it up."
Even seldom-used Simon Harris saw plenty of court time on Saturday. The junior came into the game with 10 minutes left in the first half and provided and immediate spark by hustling to grab an offensive rebound.
"Simon was great today," Grant said. "When Simon came in I was on the bench and even I was excited."
The Pack came out for the second half with the same intensity it had used to build a 17-point lead during the first 20 minutes. State got up by as much as 29 points with just over 13 minutes left before allowing the Bulldogs to slowly chip away at the lead, cutting it to 16 points before the Pack pulled away in the final minutes.
The Pack will face its toughest home game so far this season in its next game, as Davidson travels to the RBC Center. The Wildcats have already fought Duke, Carolina and UCLA down to the wire this year and Lowe knows that another second-half could cost them a win next week.
"Its going to be a 40-minute, knock-down drag-out fight of a game." Lowe said. "No question, it will take 40 minutes of good basketball."