After three games, two trends are becoming evident about this year's version of the South Carolina basketball team:
It doesn't necessarily need its star to have a huge game, and it has the ability to turn a close game into a runaway.
Both of those were on display in Thursday's 78-68 victory against La Salle in the first round of the Charleston Classic.
Star guard Devan Downey was held to 10 points, and he might have been better off in the second half hanging out with NBA legend Joe Dumars, who was in the crowd to see his son, a freshman for South Florida, whom USC will play tonight.
Instead the Gamecocks were spurred by numerous players during a 30-5 run that started at the end of the first half and gained steam in the second half.
"The lead going from two to six shouldn't make that much of a difference," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "But the game felt different quickly."
For a half, South Carolina (3-0) seemed in trouble. La Salle's size, and a lack of scoring from USC saw the Gamecocks trail for more than 19 minutes.
The Gamecocks got back in the game late in the half. Then they ran away with it to start the second half.
It was reminiscent of USC's previous game, a 24-point victory against Georgia Southern. In that game, the Gamecocks trailed much of the first half, then took control with a big run that started at the end of the half.
Thursday night was almost a carbon copy.
The Gamecocks led once in the first half: the last time. A 3-pointer by Brandis Raley-Ross made it 38-36 with 40.4 to go.
Raley-Ross also had two 3s near the end of the run, which left the lead at 58-41 with 12 minutes to go in the game.
"I don't know what to say," Raley-Ross said. "I was just ready to shoot, stepped into it and knocked it down."
La Salle jumped out to a 9-2 lead and had a multiple-possession lead for most of the half. The Explorers' length was its advantage: Inside shots were blocked, weakside rebounds were given up and put-backs were put in the basket.
USC made a few runs, but La Salle kept answering. A steal and breakaway layup by Mike Holmes was a potential momentum swing, forcing La Salle to call timeout. But the Explorers went on a 9-4 run to extend the lead to eight and force USC to call a timeout.
Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn thought the offense was the big reason for the turnaround.
"We seemed to attack better," Horn said. "We seemed to get stagnant early on. Then as the first half wore on, we started getting in gaps, driving the ball a little bit, got some post feeds. More than anything, it seemed to get our confidence going."
Giannini was impressed by USC's defense.
"I give them a lot of credit. Their pressure is hard to deal with for 40 minutes," Giannini said. "They play a style that almost forces you to play the game their way.
Dominique Archie, USC's second-best player, also erupted in the second half, and finished with a team-high 17 points. But Raley-Ross and Mike Holmes carried the way in the first half.
"I think one of the positives we've found early on here is we're not so dependent on one guy having to be great or to score in order to play a certain way," Horn said.
3-pointers: Lasalle 2-8 (Guillandeaux 1-2, Green 1-2, Murray 0-1, Barrett 0-1, Mekongo Mbala 0-2); USC 4-14 (Raley-Ross 4-6, Baniulis 0-1, Jackson 0-1, Muldrow 0-1, Galloway 0-1, Downey 0-2, Archie 0-2). Turnovers: Lasalle 17, USC 17. Officials-Mark Whitehead, Hal Lusk, Andrew Walton. A-2,115.
South Carolina will be facing a team with an off-court distraction.
A Web site alleged NCAA violations were committed by South Florida, centering around the transfer of starting forward Gus Gilchrist from Maryland.
FanHouse.com reported that Terrelle Woodley, hired as a staff member in order to induce Gilchrist to come to South Florida, improperly drove Gilchrist on personal trips and illegally coached and worked out other players.
South Florida coach Stan Heath, formerly the coach at Arkansas, denied the allegations in the report, and declined to say anything more after Thursday's game.
"Their minds and my minds were on Davidson," Heath said. "That's how I know my team's that way today, and I'm sure they're going to be that way (today)."
Bad memories. Besides Heath, the Bulls have another familiar face to Gamecock fans.
Senior Mike Mercer's final game at Georgia was at South Carolina. The Bulldogs' leading scorer at the time, he sustained a season-ending injury in Feb. 2007, and was dismissed from the team a year later.
- Seth Emerson