Gamecocks cruise in season opener

The Darrin Horn Era opened with a battle for Gamecock supremacy between Carolina and Jacksonville State. Carolina jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead and cruised to an 89-76 win. However, the victory came at a price, as starter Brandis Raley-Ross appeared to seriously injure his left knee at the end of the first half. There was no immediate word on the severity, but he will be reevaluated Saturday.


"You never want a guy to go down, I don't care who it is," said Horn. "To me it goes far beyond [Raley-Ross] being a key player, you just don't want a person to have to go through that. But it's also part of the game."

South Carolina led 10-0 after nearly four minutes of play thanks to Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes. Both had thunderous dunks to get the crowd of 11,439 on its feet. Each nearly finished with a double-double. Archie had 13 points and 9 boards, while Holmes had a team high 17 points and seven rebounds.

"We set the tone for how we wanted the game to be played," Horn said of the quick start. "We got the game at the pace that we wanted it."

Brandon Crawford briefly got Jacksonville State back in the game at 24-14 en route to a game-high 28 points. However, Carolina had a working margin of between 15 and 20 points for most of the half and led 47-30 at halftime.

"I'm particularly proud of Brandon Crawford," said first-year Jacksonville State coach James Green. "Not just because he made some baskets out there, but because of his enthusiasm and energy in a difficult situation where we had our backs to the wall."

Jacksonville State used a 21-11 run in the second half to pull within 13 at 72-59 with just over 10 minutes to play. The run occurred while both Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick, who tied Holmes for the team high with 17 points, were on the bench with four fouls each. With Raley-Ross out, that meant Branden Conrad and walk-on Robert Wilder were forced to play key minutes.

"I've been concerned about depth since April," Horn joked. "We're not going to worry about it. We're going to evaluate it and do what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance to win."

From there, Holmes took over. On the next three defensive possessions, he drew a charge and grabbed two rebounds. Offensively, he hit a hook shot in the lane and a turnaround jumper from the baseline on consecutive shots.

"Mike's a physical presence for you," said Horn. "He's a guy that if you keep him on the floor long enough, he's going to do good things. He's tough, he plays hard, and he makes a lot happen. I think we saw some really good things from him tonight."

Carolina showed marked improvement from behind the arc. In the exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan, Carolina shot just 38% from the field and 22% from behind the arc. Against JSU, Carolina shot 51% (34-67) from the field and 41% (7-17) from three.

However, Carolina has to be concerned about the number of free throws Jacksonville State shot. They went to the line 28 times, making 20. In the first half, Jacksonville State had as many free throws made as field goals made, 10.

"The positive thing for us was being able to shoot more free throws than them," Green said. "That's something we always want to do is make sure to give ourselves a chance to get to the line, and we were able to do that."

Additionally, Jacksonville State outrebounded Carolina 41-37, including an 18-12 edge on the offensive glass. That came after Carolina held a 19-15 edge on the boards in the first half. Carolina is going to give up a lot of rebounds due to its style of play, and on Friday night they were able to make up the difference by forcing 25 turnovers leading to 30 points, while giving it back only 13 times.

"It's a concern, but we've known that for a while," said Horn. "We're out of position a bunch in the second half, but we're in that zone and the personnel that we have in there, and some of that stuff."

"Obviously you can't play with 25 turnovers on the road and have a chance to win against a team like that," said Green. "I thought our guys did a pretty good job, but it was the little things. We were trying to throw passes that were too far away instead of shortening the passes."


Notes:

- Branden Conrad played a career-high 23 minutes, scoring four points. His career high for points is five, scored last season against The Citadel. Robert Wilder more than doubled his career-high four minutes played, seeing nine minutes of action.

- Mike Holmes had a career-high four blocks.

- Evka Baniulis tied his career-high with seven rebounds.


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