In a game marred by 25 second half fouls and four technicals, it was the South Carolina Gamecocks that pulled away late for a 64-53 win over a scrappy Wofford Terrier team. Gamecocks won their sixth game in a row - the longest winning streak in the Darrin Horn era - to improve to 7-1 while the Terriers dropped to 4-6.
"A good win for our team for a lot of reasons," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "Wofford's an excellent basketball team - a veteran team that will compete for a championship in their conference and an NCAA bid. We had a lot of different guys contribute - I thought our bench was huge again tonight. We got some contributions from the bench without question and we continue to find ways to win."
Sam Muldrow had a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds to go along with three blocks and Bruce Ellington led the Gamecocks with 18 points.
"I can't say enough about Sam Muldrow tonight," Horn said. "I thought, individually, he was the difference tonight. He played like seniors that don't want to lose at home should play. He got every big rebound down the stretch and was really outstanding tonight."
The Gamecocks got off to a slow start, connecting on just 2-of-7 shots early on. Luckily for the Gamecocks the Terriers were just as cold, shooting just 14% as Carolina led 4-3. The Gamecocks would hit four out of their next five shots as they opened up a 12-6 lead while the Terriers continued to struggle from the field. Muldrow had the first of his two first half dunks and R.J. Slawson added another dunk during the mini-run. Muldrow and Ramon Galloway each hit jumpers for the other two baskets.
Wofford's Cameron Rundles had to make what was the play of the game. After driving the lane and throwing up a high arching shot over the hands of Muldrow, Rundles fell to the floor. The ball somehow ended up back in his hands while on the floor surrounded by several players. Rundles threw it up off the glass and in from his rear as the Terriers fought back to trim the lead to 19-15. From there the Gamecocks went on a 11-3 run to extend the lead to double-digits. Lakeem Jackson hit a jumper, Muldrow had his second dunk, and R.J. Slawson added a lay-up on a nice cross-court pass by Jackson. Muldrow hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to extend the lead to double-figures and Damontre Harris closed the run with a thunderous dunk.
After a Wofford basket, Jackson turned the ball over trying to find Johndre Jefferson under the basket. However, Ellington stole the outlet pass and made a lay-up to give the Gamecocks a 32-20 halftime lead.
Muldrow - who also had seven rebounds in the half - was a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor in the half as he and Ellington led all scorers with nine points apiece as seven Gamecocks scored.
The Terriers came out of the locker room on fire to start the second half. Rundles opened the scoring by nailing a three-pointer from the elbow. After a Jackson jumper, Jamar Diggs answered with a jumper of his own and then Rundles hit another three-pointer in transition off a Gamecock turnover to trim the lead to 34-28. A galloway turnover led to a Terry Martin basket and Noah Dahlman hit two free throws to trim the lead to two. Diggs closed out the 14-2 run with a lay-up to tie the game at 34. During that run the Gamecocks had five turnovers in eight possessions.
"Defense and then no defense," Horn said of the early run after the Gamecocks had held the Terriers to 26% shooting in the first half. "We were terrific in the first half defensively and then at the start of the second half we let them throw the ball wherever they wanted and fell asleep on a couple of shooters, and then turned the ball over four out of five times. If the other team is scoring and you're not even getting a shot it's probably going to reflect on the scoreboard."
After Jackson slammed home an Ellington miss to give the Gamecocks a 38-36 lead, things began to get a little chippy on the court. Ellington was called for a foul attempting to steal the ball from Rundles. Ellington was obviously upset about the call and Malik Cooke grabbed the freshman and walked him into the backcourt to settle him down and avoid a technical. As the two were walking back into the frontcourt they were met by Diggs, who said something that Cooke didn't like and each were hit with technical fouls.
"I thought the emotion was great," Horn said. "We've got to learn to control it in key situations, but I think our guys sensed that Wofford came into the game thinking they were going to win and they took offense to that quite honestly. It was a little chippy and it was emotional but I'm great with that. We've got to learn how to control it and not let it hurt us but I think that's a good sign that our team responded in that way."
That seemed to light a fire under the Gamecocks as they responded with a 12-3 run to grab a 48-39 lead. Cooke and Ellington - the two at the center of the controversy - had six of the 12 points.
Galloway was then called for a foul that he took exception to and was hit with a technical for his fourth and fifth fouls of the game. Dahlman hit both technical free throws and Rundles hit both of his free throws on the one-and-one and Wofford was back in the game just like that at 48-43. After a Jackson free throw, Rundles made a lay-up off a Gamecock turnover under the basket to trim the lead to 49-45.
Ellington was then fouled by Diggs, who was subsequently called for his second technical and ejected from the game. Brian Richardson hit both technical free throws and Ellington hit the second of his two free throws to stretch the lead back to seven. Rundles was fouled shooting a three-pointer, but was only able to make the first two to trim the lead to 52-47.
Muldrow followed that with his second three-pointer of the night - and first basket of the second half - to extend the lead to eight. Rundles answered with a three of his own to cut it back to five before Muldrow tipped in a Jackson miss to give the Gamecocks 57-49 lead.
"I think the fact that we continue to play and make plays and do what we need to do to stretch it (the lead) down the stretch," Horn said. "This very easily could have been a one possession game inside a minute. I like the fight this team has. We're not playing great offensively and scoring like we're going to and we're winning by playing with great toughness."
Ellington put an exclamation point on things by hitting a pull-up three-pointer with under two minutes to play that was very similar to the three-pointer that put the Clemson game away to give the Gamecocks a 62-50 lead as they cruised to the victory.
"His greatest quality is he thinks he can do it and he believes he's going to make the play no matter what happened on the play before," Horn said of Ellington. "He wants to be great and he wants to win big."
The Gamecocks will have a week off before heading up to Columbus, Ohio to take on the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. The game is set to tip off at 2:00 and will be nationally televised on CBS. The Gamecocks have already traveled to a Big Ten arena to take on a #2-ranked team when they traveled to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Gamecocks lost that game 82-73.
"Next weekend is a great opportunity and one of the reasons we did it was to be in that environment with national television," Horn said. "We've already done that and played one #2 in the nation so it won't be the first time they've done it. It will be a challenge without question, but I think our guys will be excited and ready for it."
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