The South Carolina men's basketball team overcame a pesky bunch from Delaware State, pulling away late and cruising to a 74-61 win Wednesday night in the Colonial Life Arena. The win improved the Gamecocks to 5-1, while the Hornets dropped to 2-3.
"This really was a game that was a tale of two halves for sure," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "As coaches, we knew coming into this game that Delaware State is a tough team to play against. They have some guys that can really shoot."
The game couldn't have gotten off to a better start for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks forced three turnovers in the opening minutes, Jackson converted consecutive lay-ups and Ellington added a lay-up of his own as the Gamecocks jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. A Ramon Galloway three-pointer nearly five minutes into the game gave the Gamecocks their biggest lead of the half at 13-4.
"We didn't particularly want to just sit in the half court and just guard," Horn said. "We wanted to try to come out and be active. Early, we had some really good things (go) for us. We went up 13-4 pretty early in the game and then for whatever reason, our energy and emotion dropped a little bit. You just can't press without that."
The Hornets went on a 13-5 run over the next six and a half minutes to trim the lead to one at 18-17. Marques Oliver, who led all scorers with 21 points, hit a jumper and a free throw to get the run started. After a Terron Stowe lay-up cut the lead to four. After the Gamecocks scored five straight points to stretch the lead back out to seven, the Hornets went on a 6-0 run to get within 1.
A Desi Washington three-pointer with just under seven minutes remaining in the half tied the game for the first time at 25-25. 30 seconds later Trevor Welcher gave the Hornets their first lead at 27-25. It was a lead they would not relinquish the remainder of the half as they took a 37-35 lead into the locker room. In the half, the Hornet were 11-for-12 from the three throw line.
"They got a few easy ones," Horn said of the run. "They got in the bonus and got to the foul line and were able to get ahead at the half."
The coaches spent halftime challenging the players and changing the defensive game plan a bit. Instead of running Horn's full court zone-press, the Gamecocks fell back into a half court defense.
"We really just challenged our guys at halftime and said come out and let's guard," Horn said. "Sit down in the half court and defend. To our players' credit, I think they've responded every time there's been a challenge like that. They did that tonight. We got a lot of points off our defense without having to press, trap, and rotate."
In the second half, the Gamecocks quickly stormed back with a quick 7-0 run. Malik Cooke hit one of two free throws to trim it to one, and Jackson got a steal off of pressure, and dunked it over the head of Oliver. Oliver took exception to the authoritative dunk and threw and elbow at Jackson drawing a technical foul.
"We just decided to trap and Bruce got a hand on the ball and I just picked it up," Galloway said.
That appeared to light a fire in the Gamecocks as they turned it up a few notches on both ends of the court. Richardson knocked down both free throws on the technical to give the Gamecocks a 40-37 lead. An Ellington jumper closed out the run to give the Gamecocks a five point lead.
"I think it (the dunk) was a big play," Horn said. "The dunk, getting some free throws and getting the ball back. I think it just got us going and got our energy up and got us focused. That was definitely a play that got us going."
As was the case most of the night, just when it looked like the Gamecocks were going to put the game out of reach, the Hornets would come right back. After a Jackson lay-up gave the Gamecocks a 54-45 lead, Desi Washington knocked down a three pointer to keep the Hornets within striking distance. After the two teams traded baskets, the Gamecocks began to pull away a little bit thanks in large part to Oliver fouling out with 8:43 left in the game and the Gamecocks clinging to a 56-50 lead.
"I think what was hurting us was him driving the ball," We made an adjustment with who was guarding him and how we were guarding him. Three or four possessions we did that prior to him fouling out produced positive results."
"It took a lot of pressure off our bigs," Galloway said. "He was really getting to the basket a lot so it took a lot of pressure off them."
After a Stowe lay-up kept the Hornets within striking distance at 63-52 with six minutes left, Johndre Jefferson went on a personal 8-0 run to ice the game, including three dunks. Jefferson started the run with a jumper and then threw down a slam to give the Gamecocks a 15-point lead. Jackson through up an alley-oop to Jefferson that Jefferson threw down as the exclamation point on the night with 3:38 left in the game. To add insult to injury, Jefferson got the ball ahead of the crowd and threw down another one to give the Gamecocks a 69-52 lead.
"Johndre Jefferson was terrific off the bench," Horn said. "He really gave us a good presence. He finished it well at the rim. I thought he was really good. He gave us a big spark to start the second half."
Galloway closed the Gamecock 10-0 run with a lay-up to give Carolina their biggest lead of the game at 71-52 with just over three minutes left before allowing the Hornets to close the deficit a bit in the final minutes.
"I've said it before, I'll keep saying it, I think the strength of our team is going to be the team," Horn said. "I guy like Johndre Jefferson was the standout guy tonight, and he may not do that the next night, but it could be somebody else."
The Gamecocks had three players that scored 12 points apiece. Cooke, Jackson, and Brian Richardson each had 12 points. For Richardson, it was a career high. Jefferson added 11 points as 10 of 11 Gamecocks scored. Damontre Harris had a career-high three blocks and Galloway dished out a career-high three assists.
"We've got a lot to learn but we have a tremendous amount of pride in the locker room," Horn said. "The guys care about (winning) and their competing and responding well."
Next up for the Gamecocks is a Palmetto State showdown with arch-rival Clemson. The game is set to tip off at 4:00 Sunday afternoon. Horn knows his team must play better and hopes the team will have a lot of support from the Garnet Army and the rest of Gamecock Nation.
"I think that this is a really good team we're playing," Horn said of the Tigers. "I haven't seen them play a lot, but knowing their personnel that we're going to have to play for 40 minutes. Obviously a huge crowd will make a big difference to get some energy with the atmosphere in our building. We're going to have to have the kind of effort and performance of each individual bringing us what he can bring us. I think that's going to be key as we move forward and begin playing better and better teams."
Gamecocks Close Out Delaware State, 74-61
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