In the debut of USC men’s coach Frank Martin, it took four players scoring in double figures, three huge performances from newcomers, two players reaching double figures in rebounds and an overtime period to outlast visiting Wisconsin-Milwaukee 82-75.
LaShay Page scored 19 points in his homecoming debut. Freshman Michael Carrera scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, no fooling.
Another freshman, Mindaugas Kacinas, grabbed 13 rebounds. Mainstays Lakeem Jackson and Brenton Williams combined for 26 points.
Yes, it became clear on Sunday that it will take a village of Gamecocks to win basketball games this season.
“Good win for us. Good win,” Martin said. “I’m real proud of seeing our kids fight back and figure out a way to get this win.”
When the Gamecocks trailed 40-23 early in the second half, it appeared as if none of these things would come to pass.
It was a game of runs. It was a game of learning curves. It was a game that established with authority the team identity.
This is a team that will rebound at both ends. It is a team that will score the overwhelming majority of its points within inches of the basket. It is a team that will need to hit its free throws because its controlled-chaos physicality will turn games into bloodbaths.
This is what the Gamecocks did on Sunday except when it did not.
A strong start promised a neck-and-neck game until the Panthers’ 3-point shooting acumen took root. When they began to pull away midway through the first half, USC abandoned what had been working in favor of a perimeter game that left much to be desired.
End result: Wisconsin-Milwaukee outscored USC 24-0 from beyond the arc in the first half, resulting in a 38-23 halftime lead.
“The first 10 minutes of the game, it wasn’t a problem,” Martin said. “We missed some point-blank shots and we allowed missing shots to break our defensive spirit. And then we started having major breakdowns.”
Martin delivered a boisterous halftime soliloquy detailing that specific point, according to Williams, Page and Jackson.
“The message was, we weren’t physical,” Page said. “You know, he let us know that we weren’t physical at all.”
Message received: After the Panthers opened the second half with a basket for their largest lead, 40-23, USC scored the next 13 points. When the Panthers went back behind the arc to ignite its own 11-0 run, USC responded with a workman-like performance over the remaining 11 minutes.
And when freshman Kacinas drained two free throws with 18 seconds remaining, USC had finally closed the gap, knotting the game at 66-66 to force overtime.
To reach overtime, it took Page scoring 17 of his 19 points. It took Jackson scoring 10 of his 12.
Once there, it took Williams scoring 12 of his 14 points, including eight consecutive free throws, to seal the win.
USC missed all 11 shots it took from 3-point range, but connected on 26 of 31 free throws. With their frenetic defense and active feet, the Gamecocks eventually took the legs out from under the Panthers and when their long balls stopped falling, virtually every other avenue closed to them as well. They missed 10 of their final 12 attempts and shot 38 percent overall for the game.
Jordan Aaron led all scorers with 28 points. James Haarsma had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Perhaps most important to Martin was USC’s 45-33 rebounding advantage, which included 17 on the offensive board. Credit went primarily to Carrera and Kacinas, though every Gamecock except one grabbed a board.
“They came out and instilled their will. That’s what won us the game,” Martin said. “Offensive rebounding. It was relentless.
“It was an unbelievable assault on the rim with us on offense and that’s who we are,” Martin added. “That’s our personality, it’s going to be a staple of South Carolina basketball.”
Aaron 9-24 3-4 28, Haarsma 5-9 2-2 14, Niang 3-11 1-4 9, Harris 3-7 0-4 6, Wolf 0-1 2-2 2, Panoske 0-1 0-0 0, Arians 3-7 0-0 8, Kelm 2-3 0-0 5, Haggerty 1-3 1-3 3, Richard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-67 9-19 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0)
Page 7-18 5-7 19, Jackson 6-10 0-1 12, Carrera 6-12 5-5 17, Smith 2-9 2-2 6, Slawson 0-1 0-0 0, Kacinas 1-3 6-8 8, Williams 3-6 8-8 14, Leonard 0-1 0-0 0, Richardson 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 28-63 26-31 82.
Halftime: Milwaukee 38-23. End Of Regulation: Tied 66. 3-Point Goals: Milwaukee 14-33 (Aaron 7-14, Haarsma 2-2, Arians 2-6, Niang 2-7, Kelm 1-2, Haggerty 0-1, Panoske 0-1), South Carolina 0-11 (Leonard 0-1, Kacinas 0-1, Smith 0-1, Williams 0-2, Page 0-6). Fouled Out: Aaron. Rebounds: Milwaukee 33 (Haarsma 10), South Carolina 45 (Carrera 15). Assists: Milwaukee 17 (Aaron 6), South Carolina 11 (Smith 4). Total Fouls: Milwaukee 24, South Carolina 16.