It was rough, sloppy, reflective of lousy preparation or any other way one could describe it.
But it was a win, and South Carolina’s focus now turns to getting another win.
“We’ve been real, real bad in practice the last two days,” coach Frank Martin said following the Gamecocks’ 85-76 season-opening win over Louisiana Tech. “For us to have gone out today and played somebody and beat them by 25 or whatever, would not have prepared our team for reality.”
Like their exhibition win, the Gamecocks fought through foul trouble to their frontcourt and leaned on their upperclassmen to win. Guards Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier combined for 52 points against the Bulldogs, and when Louisiana Tech sliced what had been a 15-point lead to four late in the game, USC took over.
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Chris Silva, again having taken most of the first half off with two quick fouls, hammered a dunk home after a Bulldog miss. Thornwell swiped a pass at midcourt and had his own uncontested one-handed jam. The lead was restored and the win recorded.
Now for improvement, despite a quick turnaround. Holy Cross, an NCAA Tournament team last year, visits less than 48 hours after Louisiana Tech left.
“Bruce (Shingler) and I and our staff will meet in the morning, then we’ll lay it out for the guys at practice,” Martin said. “The problem is, if we’re as non-attentive as we were preparing for this game, we’re going to get embarrassed on Sunday. Because those people don’t just stand around and dribble.”
USC was un-nerved by the Bulldogs’ trapping defense, which wasn’t designed to knock a ball from a hand so much as it was to speed it up and force a bad pass. Thornwell and Notice had nine turnovers between them.
“It was us,” Thornwell said. “We rushed and saw openings and we threw passes where our teammates weren’t expecting.”
But they settled down, got some production from their fill-in bigs (walk-on Jarrell Holliman played 14 minutes as Silva, Khadim Gueye and Maik Kotsar were each hit with some of the game’s 48 fouls) and got it done.
Now come the Crusaders, the defending Patriot League champs. Their defense might not be as aggressive as the Bulldogs, but they could tie USC in knots with their patient Princeton offense.
The Gamecocks won their exhibition and season opener by turning to their seniors when the game got tight. It’s great knowing that option is there – but USC would like to get everybody involved and remove any more late-game hiccups.
“The whole game, we would go up 13, they’d cut it to four. We’d go up 14, they’d cut it to five,” Thornwell said. “It was all about holding that lead. So we said, ‘Let’s lock in and win these last two minutes.’”
It was enough on Friday. They’re looking to win the full 40 on Sunday.
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HOLY CROSS (0-0) at SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0)
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
Holy Cross’ probable starters: G Robert Champion 6-6 Sr. (12.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Anthony Thompson 5-10 Sr. (7.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Malachi Alexander 6-7 Sr. (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Karl Charles 6-6 So. (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); C Matt Husek 6-11 Sr. (5.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg)*
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (17.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (18.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (17.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (11.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts Monmouth at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
* 2015-16 statistics
The USC men are playing three games in five days to open the season.
USC 85, Louisiana Tech 76
Three guards combined for 52 points
USC vs. Holy Cross, 6 p.m.
Crusaders made the NCAA tournament last year
USC vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.
Hawks won 28 games last year and like USC, were a No. 1 NIT seed