Youthful talent leads the way in 74-56 win

It was a big night at Colonial Life Arena on Wednesday night, as the Gamecocks tried to stay perfect at home, and head coach Darrin Horn faced his former team in the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Not only did Horn previously coach the ‘Toppers, he also played there from 1991 to 1995.


"That was a really talented basketball team that we played tonight," said Horn. "It was a collective effort, because individuals came out and did what they were capable of doing. Everybody that played gave us something."

After losing both Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes to injury, the Gamecock lineup was depleted with experienced post players, but the young guns more than made up for it against WKU. On a night when senior guard and all-star Devan Downey was held in check early, this proved especially valuable for USC. Downey finished the first half with just three points but scored 12 in the second half to ignite the Gamecocks late and hold off Western Kentucky.

With so many players out, Horn said his guys have to make every minute count from here on out.

"We need everybody to do what they are capable of," said Horn. "You call that a counter."

Horn also said after the game that it was not too surreal to face his former team while the game was being played. He said, "you don't ever want to play against people you care about." After the game, Horn had nothing but well wishes for his former school.

"I told (those) guys after the game that I am really proud of them with what they have done and keep playing hard and playing well," asserted Horn.

Forward Dominique Archie said that when he spoke to Horn about the significance of facing his former team before the game, Horn simply said that it was "just another game."

Freshmen Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson led the way in the opening frame, combining for 15 points. Without a lot of experience around him, even senior Downey had trouble getting going early, with only 3 points in the first half. Without question, it was a night for the young talent of the Gamecocks to step up. And step up they did.

Horn was very complimentary of his two young starters after the game.

"I think what you saw from Lakeem Jackson tonight is why he's here," said Horn. "He's a winner. Ramon (Galloway) can really score the basketball. Those guys can play, and that's the reason that they're here. I'm very pleased (with what) they're doing and it coming with the circumstances that we have right now."

A three pointer by Brandis Raley-Ross sparked an early 13-0 run to give the Gamecocks a 17-6 lead over the Hilltoppers. The Gamecocks hit their first three pointers overall as well as five of their first six, and shot 44 percent from behind the arc in the first half. This sharpshooting was one of the big reasons the Gamecocks held a 39-25 halftime advantage.

After a blazing start to their three point shooting, the Gamecocks cooled off a bit while missing six in a row, but still kept their foot on the gas offensively and defensively. They opened the game shooting 41%.

The Hilltoppers did not give up in the second half, opening with a quick 4-0 run and trimming the Carolina lead to as little as eight points in the early going. With a little over five minutes gone in the half, Jackson fed Austin Steed on a crosscourt pass and Steed laid it in to put the Gamecocks back up by 12. With the crowd coming alive, the Hilltoppers were never able to get closer than that eight point Gamecock margin.

Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald said after the game that his team was just unable to close the gap after getting down early.

"Anytime you spot a lot of points early, it's just really hard to get back in," said McDonald. "We tried a couple of times, but it was hard to maintain that level of intensity."

Downey led the Gamecocks down the stretch with 12 points in the second half, and teammate Brandis Raley-Ross finished with 12 points for the game. In the end, Downey led all scorers with 15. Despite showing signs of life late, the Hilltoppers were never able to come back, and fell to a deeper, if lacking in experience, Gamecock squad.

Horn said that his team is making progress, and has to fight no matter who they are playing.

"We weren't perfect, and we have to get better," said Horn. "But it's still December. At the end of the day we want to be fighters. And that's full go whether we're playing the best schedule in the country or not."


Notes:

- Mike Holmes had surgery Tuesday after breaking a bone in his face last weekend. There is no current timetable for his return.

- The Gamecocks will head to the upstate to face the Clemson Tigers on Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum. Last year, the Tigers beat the Gamecocks, 98-87.

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