USC overcomes sluggish start to beat Bulldogs

The Gamecocks (8-1) hosted The Citadel (5-7) Saturday afternoon in a game that had all the makings of a blowout. Carolina was coming off a 47 point win over NCCU, and routed the Bulldogs 103-42 last season, the biggest margin of victory in school history. The Citadel came in determined to redeem itself, and led most of the first half before falling 80-66 in a well-fought game.


"I'm a little disappointed all in all," said Darrin Horn. "I thought they played harder than we did over the course of forty minutes. We were good in spots, and our effort, especially in the second half, was where we needed it to be."

South Carolina was sluggish early, and The Citadel raced out to an 11-0 lead after four minutes.

"I don't want to take anything away from them," Horn said. "We didn't want them to come down and swing the basketball and execute because they're really good at it. In the first five minutes that's all they did."

Horn made a change in the starting lineup Saturday night when he started Austin Steed in place of Mike Holmes because of his poor effort in practice. Holmes responded well to being benched, and made an immediate impact when he came off the bench with 15:13 to play. The Gamecocks trailed 15-5 when Holmes entered the game. He immediately sparked the Gamecocks with his energy in the paint, and finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals.

"We think you have to reward guys who practice well," said Horn. "Austin had practiced better."

The Gamecocks trailed 21-13 with about eight minutes to play in the half. Zam Fredrick scored seven points to spark a 14-2 run over the next five minutes. Carolina took its first lead with five and a half minutes to play, 22-21. They led at the half, 32-28.

"They kept the pressure on us," said Bulldogs coach Ed Conroy. "Toward the end of the first half and toward the end of the game they wore us down a little bit. In some segments it was a little more mentally than physically, but that's a credit to them."

The Citadel's Demetrius Nelson led all scorers with 21, but he was hampered by foul trouble and the Gamecocks were able to take advantage of his absence in the second half. Downey was the biggest beneficiary. He had just 5 points and two assists on 1-8 shooting in the first half, but in the second half he scored 12 points to finish with a team high 17. He also had a nifty pass between the defender's legs to Holmes for a layup.

"If we're depending on Devan to be great every game for our only chance to win, we're not going to be a very good basketball team," said Horn. "I think that he did some good things otherwise."

"I think I did a poor job as a leader, being ready to play," said Devan Downey. "We came out so flat. The team feeds off me, so I've got to do a better job coming out and being ready to play from the tip."

In his second game back from injury, Brandis Raley-Ross had a strong showing. Like Downey, he struggled in the first half, finishing with no points, two boards, and two turnovers. In the second half, he came out with renewed energy and finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

"I thought he was much better," said Horn. "We talked about the other night, not just scoring or shooting, but his comfort level in terms of playing and being a player. He just looks a lot more comfortable, like he's getting his timing and his rhythm back, and his confidence."

"The Gamecocks stayed in the game early by getting to the free throw line. Carolina attempted 16 free throws in the first half, making 13. For the game, they made 28-33, 84.8%.


Notes:

- Aside from Steed, there was a bit of pre-game confusion when Robert Wilder was initially listed as a starter in place of Dominique Archie. That would have ended Archie's streak of having started every game in his USC career, but the listing was a mistake and Archie was put back in the starting lineup. However, the PA announcer did not get word of the change, and announced a surprised Robert Wilder as the starter. So Wilder jogged out with the starting lineup, even though when the teams took the court, it was Archie, not Wilder, who was out for the tip.

- Steed had a bad game in his first career start. He went scoreless in 14 minutes of play and had just 2 rebounds. It was his worst game since the loss to College of Charleston, when he also went scoreless with two rebounds in 18 minutes.

- The Gamecocks allowed an opponent to score the game's first basket for the first time this season against NCCU. They let the Eagles jump out to a 4-0, and followed that up by letting The Citadel rush out to an 11-0 lead.

- The Citadel outrebounded Carolina 34-33, but Conroy was not surprised by that. He pointed out that the Bulldogs were only outrebounded by seven in their previous game against Michigan State, a team that is typically known for its rebounding prowess. "They take rebounding personally up there," he said. "We proved [we can rebound] a couple days ago."

- The Gamecocks' next game is Tuesday night against Presbyterian (5-5) at 7 PM at the Colonial Life Arena.


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