Muldrow, Ellington lead the way

Just when it appeared the 2010-11 season may be a long one for a very young University of South Carolina team, the Gamecocks gave their followers hope that the campaign could be more than just a training session for several talented, but inexperienced athletes. They got a huge come-from-behind win in their opener, but go on the road for two big ones this week.

In its first Southeastern Conference encounter, against a nationally ranked Vanderbilt team, the Gamecocks fought back from a 14-point halftime deficit to claim an 83-75 home victory.

The most encouraging part of the victory was the way it was accomplished as several Gamecocks played key roles. Probably the most impressive performances were displayed by the team's oldest player and one of its youngest.

Senior center Sam Muldrow, who was all over the map during the Gamecocks' pre-SEC schedule, was dominant against the Commodores. He scored 16 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked 10 shots, which gives him only the second triple-double in USC men's basketball history.

Coach Darrin Horn has consistently stated that, for his team to be competitive, Muldrow must lead the way on the court. He did that against Vanderbilt.

"I can't say enough about Sam Muldrow getting a triple-double the hard way, with 10 blocks," said Horn. "He stepped up big time."

Just as impressive was freshman point guard Bruce Ellington, who not only led the Gamecocks in scoring with 22 points, but played his best in the second half. He made five of nine 3-point shots, dished out four assists, had two steals and five rebounds in the second half to spearhead the comeback.

The performance reminded many of those displayed by departed multiple-year All-SEC performer Devan Downey.

"I was nervous at the beginning because it was my first SEC game," said Ellington. "My teammates helped me get into it, then things were fine. We all know we have to protect our home court and we did that (against Vanderbilt)."

Carolina has two big road games this week, taking on Alabama on Jan. 13 and Florida on Jan. 16. If the team wants to become more than an afterthought in this season's race for the title, it must find a way to earn at least a split in those two encounters.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Now starting three freshmen, Darrin Horn understands there will be ups and downs. Despite their collective youth, the first-year performers have already displayed improvement. Point guard Bruce Ellington led the Gamecocks in scoring at 14.8 points and assists (3.9) through Jan. 8. The 5-9 point guard has also chipped in 3.6 rebounds. The other freshman starters -- 6-9 forward Damontre Harris and 6-5 shooting guard Brian Richardson -- are gaining confidence.

"I think the team has matured a little bit," said Horn. "The thing that comes the most with maturity and experience is understanding that things aren't always going to go right every time, but staying committed to what you're about and what gives you a chance to be good, you can be in position to have a chance to win."

--Junior forward Malik Cooke, playing in his first season with USC after transferring from Nevada, displayed his value to the team in its eight point win over Vanderbilt as he finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and a blocked shot, steal and assist.

"I thought Cooke did a nice job," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "I actually thought he was the guy that came in and impacted the game in the second half as much as anybody on the team. He played with good physicality."

--South Carolina continues to shoot well from 3-point range, hitting at a 36.4 percent clip through Jan. 8. That does not translated to the free throw line, however, where it is hitting at a 61.6 percent clip. No player is shooting better than 76.9 percent, which is the average of freshman guard Brian Richardson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--at Alabama, Jan. 12.

KEY MATCHUPS: The Crimson Tide claimed a 68-63 victory over USC after trailing by double figures in the second half in a SEC opening round game against USC to end the Gamecocks 2009-10 season. Point guard Bruce Ellington must continue to display consistency in both running the offense and keeping the pressing defense on point.

--at Florida, Jan 15.

KEY MATCHUPS: The Gamecocks split two games with Florida a year ago as each team won at home. USC must find a way to neutralize guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, while competing inside against Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons.

FUTURES MARKET: Coach Darrin Horn has consistently played at least eight players for 10 minutes or more this season in hopes it would allow his inexperienced team to enter Southeastern Conference play with its eyes opened and not starry. The move worked against Vanderbilt as seven players were on the court for at least 12 minutes while an eighth, starting guard Brian Richardson, played nine. The trend must continue if the Gamecocks are to have any success.

PLAYER NOTES

--Freshman PG Bruce Ellington continues to improve running the offense. While he leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points through games of Jan. 8, he is improving at running the scheme and getting his teammates involved.

He is coming off a 22-point performance against Vanderbilt in which he made six of 12 3-point shots. Coach Darrin Horn has been more impressed with court presence, however.

--Senior C Sam Muldrow has been inconsistent during the Gamecocks pre-SEC games. If he plays the way he did in the team's league opener against Vanderbilt, things will go better than expected for the team. He scored 16 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked 10 shots in the game giving him only the second triple-double in school history.

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