COLUMBIA, S.C. (Univ. of SC Media) - The South Carolina men's basketball team hosted Baylor Tuesday afternoon as part of the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The noon start wouldn't faze either side, as the physical matchup was closely contested throughout. The Bears (2-0) were able to keep Carolina (1-1) at arm's length for much of the game, and were able to seal the game with a pair of free throws late in a 69-65 win.
Senior guard Tyrone Johnson scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Gamecocks in a game that featured six ties and six lead changes.
Both teams were cold in first half, with Carolina shooting 32 percent and Baylor 38. It was even colder from deep, with the two sides combining to hit just three of 20 3-point attempts. The charity stripe would be the most forgiving area, with Baylor hitting 11-of-12 and Carolina making 9-of-10.
Baylor controlled the game early, but a 7-0 run from 9:23 to 7:15 of first half gave the Gamecocks an 18-16 lead. As was the case all day long, when one side seemed to gain momentum it would be quickly snatched away, and the Bears would use a quick 6-0 run in the final two minutes of the half to take a 30-27 lead. A Johnathan Motley jumper that fell just before the buzzer capped the run, the forward would lead all scorers in the half with 13.
In the final 20 minutes, the Gamecocks were unable to cut deep enough into the Baylor lead, taking a brief 36-35 lead with 16:55 to play before a 12-4 run from the visitors put them ahead for good. With Motley picking up his fourth foul with 13:19 to play, Baylor's senior guard Kenny Chery made up for the scoring slack by scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half.
The combo of Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell would counter the Baylor duo all game long, though, with Johnson's 21 and Thornwell's 16 leading the offense. After scoring 42 points as a group in the season opener against North Florida, the Carolina bench scored just 14 on Tuesday, with 10 coming from another strong performance by freshman Marcus Stroman. The point guard scored 10 points with five rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes of action.
The Bears converted a turnover into a basket with 4:43 to play in the game that completed a 7-0 run to give them their biggest lead of the game at 64-54. The Gamecocks responded with a 7-0 run of their own over the next two minutes to make it 64-61 thanks to a fast-break layup from Thornwell and three straight points from Stroman to put a bow on the run.
A dunk from Michael Carrera with 32 seconds to go cut it to a one-possession game, 66-63, but after Baylor hit the front end of a pair of free throws the Gamecocks missed a 3 in transition and took up too much time committing a foul. Despite Taurean Prince missing both free throws on the other end, the home side was left with less than three seconds following a layup by Johnson to make it 67-65.
After a Gamecock foul on the inbounds pass, Chery hit both attempts at the line to take away the chance at a buzzer-beater.