USC Escapes With 54-48 Win Over Princeton
Early on, the game played out exactly the way games against Princeton normally do. Carolina dominated in the paint, and Princeton controlled the perimeter. Behind Brandon Wallace and Kelley, the Gamecocks were able to get to the rim at will, and Wallace swatted away any Tiger shots. Bryce Sheldon, who returned to the starting lineup because of his ability to stretch the zone, did his job and hit a pair of early threes. However, despite being able to seemingly score at will, the Gamecocks were unable to put any distance between themselves and Princeton.
The Tigers, running their famed "Princeton offense," were able to get open behind the arc for shot after shot. Leading scorer Kyle Koncz, who had 19 points, helped Princeton keep the game close. The Tigers' first five baskets were all triples, and they did not hit from inside the arc until 7:45 to play in the half. Yet, the Tigers trailed by only 1 at the time, 18-17.
At the outset of the game, the Gamecocks employed a trapping, full court defense. At first, Princeton had trouble getting into its offense, but the Tigers soon adjusted. By throwing the ball side to side, they kept the Gamecocks from being able to trap, and Coach Dave Odom soon scrapped the defense all together.
With just over two minutes to play in the half, the Gamecocks finally made a run. The defense began to force some turnovers, and as it has been all year, the offense became the Tre Kelley show. On one play, Kelley got to the rim and put up a floater. The shot was short of the rim, but Kelley split the defenders, jumped up and caught the airball and then laid the ball in. Moments later he found Wallace on the break for a dunk and foul. The sequence put Carolina up 33-22 with 30 seconds to play in the half. Trying to get the deficit back to single digits, Princeton turned the ball over with 4.4 seconds remaining. Kelley took the inbounds pass in the backcourt, and dribbled to the lane. Splitting defenders, he got to the rim and hit the shot with 0.1 seconds on the clock.
Princeton coach Joe Scott said after the game that the 10-0 run was the difference in the game. "That was a critical stretch. We played well, [but] we had a bad two and a half minutes to finish the half. In the second half, we played the way we wanted to play and were effective, but they started with a 13 point edge."
With Carolina leading 35-22 coming out of the break, both teams knew that the first few minutes of the half could very well decide the game. Kelley continued his virtuoso performance, trying to put the Tigers away as he scored the first 8 points of the half for the Gamecocks. Princeton matched Kelley's intensity and his scoring, and after eight minutes of play, the Gamecocks still led by 13, 43-30.
Out of the timeout, Kelley added another three, but Princeton made sure he got no help from his teammates, and the Tigers finally put together a run. "We played really well and had them doing things we wanted them to do. It helped us that [Kelley] was the only guy trying to do anything." The Tigers hit a beautiful backdoor layup and then added a pair of treys to get the lead down to 8. A free throw pulled the score to 46-39 with eight minutes to play in the game.
Odom was bothered by the fact that Kelley was the only player contributing to the offense. "[It] makes me a little bit nervous, because we need more contributions from other people. Tre goes on one of those spells where he's virtually impossible to guard, and what happens is you get to watching. I watched Brandon on a couple of those, and we had a play called and he never moved. He was just watching and waiting for Tre to do his deal. We can't win at the level we want to win at with one guy scoring 24 and everybody else backed way off."
Princeton continued to take advantage of the Gamecocks' offensive shortcomings, and converted a three-point play on a fast break to pull within four. Dominique Archie finally made a play for the anemic Gamecocks with 6:00 left, when he hit a turnaround jumper. The basket marked the first points scored by anyone other than Kelley in the second half. Carolina seemed to take a spark from the shot, and responded by moving the ball well and getting an open three-pointer for Sheldon. The Tigers responded to the challenge with a triple of their own, setting up an exciting finish.
With 2:59 to play, the Gamecocks led 51-45. Princeton nearly came up with a big play, but Wallace came up bigger. He recovered on a backdoor cut and blocked the layup just before it started to come down. Princeton claimed it was goaltending, and after the game, Scott said he thought goaltending should have been called. Whether you think it was goaltending probably depends on whether you like your black trimmed with garnet or orange.
Carolina was unable to add any points, and barely got off a desperation shot as the shot clock expired. Lincoln Gunn, who scored 15 points on the night, calmly drained a triple on the other end. Frustrated, Odom called a timeout to set up the offense. Kelley drove the lane and found Archie underneath for a dunk that sealed the game.
Chad Gray, who was just admitted to Carolina this week, entered the game with 2.5 seconds remaining. He was greeted with cheers, and made the most of his cameo by pulling down an offensive rebound.
The Gamecocks will enjoy the next week off before playing host to UNC Asheville next Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at the Colonial Center.
- Tre Kelley's 24 points on Wednesday night marked the third time he has scored 20+ points this season He now has eleven career 20+ point performances.
- Brandon Wallace's 12 rebounds against Princeton tied his season high.
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