USC puts Kentucky Wesleyan away

It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy, but South Carolina eventually pulled away from a pesky Kentucky Wesleyan team, ultimately downing the Panthers 71-58 in an exhibition at the Colonial Life Arena Thursday night. With six new Gamecocks making their debuts, South Carolina was paced by freshman Bruce Ellington and returning starters Lakeem Jackson and Sam Muldrow.

"This was a game that was exactly what we wanted and what we needed with this team. I think you have to give Kentucky Wesleyan a lot of credit," head basketball coach Darrin Horn said. "The reason we like to play them, obviously he (Kentucky Wesleyan head coach Todd Lee) is a good friend, but he's a good coach and his teams always are well prepared. ... I think we saw a lot of bright spots with this team on our personnel, with how we handled certain things tonight. It's not a news flash, we have an awful lot of work to do."

Ellington, tasked with starting at point guard as the freshman replacement of all-time great Devan Downey, controlled the floor well and led all scorers with 23 points and 3 assists.

"He's a young man that can make plays," Horn said. "The brighter the lights, the bigger the moment, the better he's going to play. He's one of those guys that enjoys that. He's going to go out and make something happen. The great thing is that he did it within the team concept. He made some terrific plays."

The senior Muldrow was solid with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Jackson, who will be counted on as a "veteran" despite just being a sophomore, had 16 points and 7 boards.

"I know a couple of guys probably had a few butterflies," Jackson said," because it was their first college game but that's to be expected. Once we got past that we played pretty well. Everybody showed up and filled their role very well, we're real excited about that."

While the Gamecocks led for most of the contest, Kentucky Wesleyan did not go away quietly in the second half. Once down 10 points, they stormed back briefly taking a 52-49 lead with under nine minutes to play.

"We tried to remind them," Horn said of the timeout he took at the time, "as we had been all game, regardless of what the score was, that it's really about defense. We have a chance to be good if we can be good defensively. We'll get better offensively."

South Carolina responded retaking the lead and holding them to just 3 points in the final three minutes of the game.

Other Gamecocks making debuts were transfer Malik Cooke and freshmen Brian Richardson, Eric Smith, Damontre Harris and RJ Slawson.

The Gamecocks open the regular season on Friday, Nov. 12 at home against Elon. Tip is set for a 9 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Carolinas.

The Gamecocks know they have a lot to work on, but ultimately were happy with the start to the 2010 season.

"From a team perspective defensively, a lot of good things happened," Horn said. "We held to a low percentage, forced a lot of turnovers, and we limited their 3's. All of that was really good. Rebounding was not good. It's something that we need to focus on. Offensively, it's good to see there's balance. We think that's going to be a mark of this team, with the balance and different guys stepping up. Individually, there are things that are good signs."

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