Gamecocks fall short against Buckeyes

South Carolina put up a valiant effort against #2 Ohio State Saturday afternoon, but the Gamecocks wore down late and the Buckeyes were able to pull away for a 74-66 victory over the Gamecocks. Deshaun Thomas led all scorers with 30 points. Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 21.

Leading 18-11 early in its contest with South Carolina, second-ranked Ohio State's leading scorer and All-American Jared Sullinger left the game after being kicked in his left foot and would not return. Deshaun Thomas and the rest of his teammates didn't care. Thomas scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half as the Buckeyes overcame a halftime deficit to pull away from a pesky Gamecock team late in a 74-66 win Saturday at the Colonial Life Arena with a noticeably pro-Ohio State crowd watching on.

"Really disappointed with the loss," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "This was a game our guys believed we could win and I think we played that way for 40 minutes. We did not come in here to play good and hopefully look alright. We came to win the game and we didn't do that. That part is extremely disappointing. With that said, there were a lot of bright spots and a lot of positives."

Carolina played right with Ohio State in most categories, except on the boards. The Buckeyes outrebounded the Gamecocks 34-19, including a 15-7 edge on the offensive glass.

"If it ultimately came down to one thing, if you had to pick one thing rebounding the basketball, not only in keeping them from getting them but we didn't get enough of our own," Horn said. "One of our strengths is offensive rebounding and we only got seven of our 25 misses back. That's something that is an important part of our game and we didn't do a good job on our end."

South Carolina went toe-to-toe early against Ohio State. With a stifling defense and an offense just productive enough, the Gamecocks hung around and then some. After OSU scored the first five points of the game, a Cooke jumper and R.J. Slawson three-pointer tied the game up. The Buckeyes would later go on a 7-0 run midway through the half to take an 18-11 lead, but again the Gamecocks would battle right back. A Carlton Geathers free throw broke the run and an Eric Smith lay-up cut it to 18-14. Damien Leonard drained a three-pointer to trim the lead to one, 18-17. Another Smith three-pointer would tie the game for the third time at 22-22 with just less than six minutes left in the half.

The Buckeyes would answer again scoring four quick points, but after an Amir Williams dunk, he was called for a technical with a shove to a Gamecock player. That would hurt the Buckeyes as Cooke knocked down both free throws and Leonard hit his second three of the half to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the game, a 27-26 advantage with 3:38 left in the half. Slawson fouled William Buford on a three-point attempt the next trip down court and William Buford would make all three to give the Buckeyes the lead right back. Carolina would score the final six points of the half, four by Cooke to take a 33-29 lead into the locker room, its biggest lead of the game.

In the second half, still without Sullinger, the Buckeyes took command. Like the Gamecocks did in the first half, OSU turned up the pressure on defense and got out in transition, quickly taking the lead with a 12-4 spurt. Thomas would go on a personal 8-2 run as the Buckeyes built their lead to double-digits at 57-46 with 8:46 left.

"Credit Thomas," Horn said. "Essentially he stepped up and did what he needed to do. We put him in a lot of positions to make those plays by design and he made them. He hit a lot of pull-ups against our pressure and hit two huge threes in the second half and played really well."

Carolina would try and battle back late, but each time the Gamecocks would draw closer, Thomas and the Buckeyes would answer back. Cooke would finish with 21 points to lead the Gamecocks offensively. Anthony Gill finished with 11 as the only other Gamecock to reach double figures scoring.

"Can't say enough about Malik Cooke and the leadership he shows," Horn said. "If you don't think he's valuable to our team I think you saw that when he went out at the beginning of the half when he get hit on the no-call underneath the basket. Our team just didn't seem to have the same confidence that they had. Credit him for coming back in and playing through that and having a terrific game."

To go with Thomas' 30 points, Buford scored 17 to lead the Buckeyes offensively.

"Coming into the game, I really felt like Buford was the key to their team," Horn said. "In my mind he may be the best pro prospect they have. We were going to be really conscious of him. That meant somebody else was going to have an opportunity obviously to step up and make some plays and credit Thomas for doing that."

Carolina, 4-6 on the season, will return to action Wednesday, hosting Southeastern Louisiana as the Gamecocks continue their six-game homestand to close out non-conference play before traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the Wildcats in the SEC opener.

"I think we have to keep getting better," Horn said. "That's the focus and that's happened. That's been one of the bright spots regardless of the outcome. We feel like we've gotten better every time out. With a young team that has to be the number one focus. If that continues to happen you can build on it. We were better tonight than we were on Tuesday night."

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