Strong second half propels USC past Richmond
Perhaps it was the layoff.
Or the news that two key contributors are out for several more weeks.
Whatever the reason, it took the Gamecocks a while to get going on Wednesday night. Once they did, Devan Downey ignited an outpouring of offense in the second half, and Darrin Horn's squad eventually took down a scrappy and talented Richmond Spider team by a final score of 76-58.
After forcing themselves into an early 10 point deficit, the Gamecocks were able to scratch their way back into the game, but still trailed 32-24 at halftime. Richmond, which came into the game having beaten three straight teams from BCS conferences, including Mississippi State of the SEC, certainly proved they were a worthy opponent in the early going.
"That is a very good basketball team that I think is going to be a tournament team because they are so hard to play against," said Horn. "I think what I am most proud of is that our guys just kept playing, and they kept fighting."
Out of the gate Richmond was led by guard David Gonzalvez, who scored 7 points in the game's opening five minutes. The Spiders guards were able to exploit the Gamecocks defense, combining for 15 points in the first half.
The Gamecocks showed some defensive rust as well after a ten day layoff. Richmond came out to a blazing start, hitting 5 of their first 6 shots. Much of the first half frustration for Darrin Horn's squad was due to an inability to simply put the ball in the basket. The Gamecocks shot only 29% in the first half, and were 0 for 8 from three point land. To add insult to injury, Richmond had a late putback to add two points in the closing seconds of the first half.
USC struggled against Richmond's zone defense and was able to chip away at Richmond's lead in the first twenty minutes, but was never able to establish enough offensive rhythm to take the lead.
In the second half, the Gamecocks to finally established some offensive consistency, charging out of the gate to take a 35-34 lead. It was Richmond's turn to play catch-up in the second half, trailing by as many as seven. However, after a late Gamecock run, they were not able to give USC a threat in the game's closing minutes.
Horn said that he was very proud of how his team responded after the break.
"They are good at what they do, and we knew that we were going to have to play for 40 minutes," said Horn. "It was good to see us win one where we grind it out and things aren't going our way, but we just kept playing. We made shots in the second half, and there have been some stretches where we have not done that in some games. We are going to keep doing what we do and keep taking the good ones."
Richmond was not without emotion, and their fiery play enabled them to battle into a back and forth game in the final ten minutes. However, a 15-0 Gamecock run helped the Gamecocks establish a 67-52 lead before the Spiders were finally able to make a basket. The Gamecocks never looked back from that point, forcing Richmond into several key turnovers late.
Despite four players in double figures for the Spiders, USC was able to double them up in the second half by a 52-26 margin. Carolina also shot a crisp 55% from three in the second half after failing to convert a try in the opening frame.
The Gamecocks were led by guard Devan Downey with 18 points. Another key contributor was junior college transfer Johndre Jefferson, who finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Jefferson and true freshman Lakeem Jackson continued to give the Gamecocks quality size in the absence of Mike Holmes and Dominique Archie.
Horn said it was nice to have a newcomer step up for the team, but he was proud of all the ways his players contributed against a quality Richmond team.
"Johndre was terrific tonight," said Horn. "He was outstanding. I think he brought us a lot off the bench on both ends of the floor. I am repetitive with what I say, but if you go down our stat sheet and just look at how the game went, every guy on the team did what they could do tonight."
Next up the Gamecocks will travel to Spartanburg on Saturday to take on the Wofford Terriers.
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