USC’s first true road test left the Gamecocks physically battered and emotionally bruised.
In the course of their 89-65 defeat Thursday at St. John’s, the Gamecocks lost guard Brenton Williams to a harrowing neck injury and never posed much of a threat to the bigger, stronger Red Storm.
“St. John’s made us go away,” USC coach Frank Martin said.
Williams’ injury came during a collision under the Gamecocks’ basket at the 13:34 mark of the second half. Fouled by Phil Greene, Williams was slammed to the court beneath St. John’s center Chris Obekpa.
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“It was a pretty hard fall,” senior forward Lakeem Jackson said. “I was right there, under the goal and (Obekpa) landed right on top of him, so it was a pretty hard fall.”
During a 10-minute stoppage of play, the entire Gamecocks bench came out to stand vigil over Williams as paramedics stabilized his neck and placed it in a brace.
He was lifted via a back board onto a gurney and taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure. He was released and traveled home with the team.
“He never lost feel in his extremities and he had movement in all his extremities,” Martin said. “So, any time you’re dealing with a neck situation, that’s God-sent when you get that kind of news.”
At that point, the Gamecocks (5-2) trailed 51-41 and appeared to be mounting a modest effort to get back in the game. Williams spearheaded the effort with a pair of 3-point baskets. The first half had been disastrous as an inability to match the Red Storm’s physicality and attack the basket put the Gamecocks in a deep hole.
St. John’s (5-2) repeatedly rebuked the Gamecocks’ early efforts to drive the lane en route to nine blocks for the game. Martin speculated that early trouble set the tone for the Gamecocks’ timidity.
“That’s the beauty of shot-blocking,” Martin said. “Give (St. John’s) credit. The times we had opportunities round the rim, those guys jumped in, blocked shots and discouraged our guys from going in there. We settled for threes and that’s not good.”
USC’s 38-26 halftime deficit was the result of 37.5 percent shooting from the field, including a 2-of-13 effort from beyond the 3-point line. Also, by not attacking the basket in their usual fashion, the Gamecocks failed to reach the free throw line, where St. John’s had converted 9-of-14 attempts.
Junior guard Bruce Ellington and freshman forward Laimonas Chatkevicius each got their first minutes of the season. Ellington came in at the first television timeout while Chatkevicius saw limited action.
Ellington wound up playing 29 minutes.
“I was a little surprised (and) a little winded,” said Ellington, who finished with nine points. “I need to go in the gym a lot more and shoot. Other than that, it felt the same. (I’m) getting used to the offense, running the point guard.”
The game was decided during a nine-minute stretch in the first half, when St. John’s blew open a 12-11 game with an 18-4 run. When Felix Balamou slammed home an alley-oop, St. John’s lead was 30-15.
Until his injury, Williams was the Gamecock’s leading scorer with 10 points. Following his departure, the Gamecocks were outscored 38-24.
Michael Carrera led the team with 11 points and 11 rebounds. They were the only two USC players in double figures.
The Gamecocks outrebounded St. John’s 43-31, including 24 offensive rebounds, but shot 5-of-23 from behind the 3-point line and 36.9 percent overall. USC didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half and finished 12-of-21 from the line.
St. John’s scorched USC. The Red Storm shot 56.9 percent from the field and nearly 60 percent in the second half. They hit 7-of-14 attempts from 3-point range. D’Angelo Harrison, a player Martin said he tried to recruit to Kansas State, led all scorers with 26 points. Amir Garrett came off the bench to score 15 points and grab 11 rebounds.
USC returns home Sunday to play host to Clemson at noon.
SOUTH CAROLINA (5-2)
Carrera 3-7 5-6 11, Jackson 3-7 0-1 6, Slawson 2-2 2-4 6, Page 1-7 0-0 2, Smith 1-7 0-0 3, Williams 4-7 0-0 10, Richardson 2-7 2-2 8, Chatkevicius 1-2 1-2 3, Ellington 3-10 1-2 7, Kacinas 4-7 1-4 9, Leonard 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-65 12-21 65.
ST. JOHN'S (5-2)
Sampson 4-6 3-4 11, Pointer 0-3 2-4 2, Greene IV 5-8 1-2 13, Harrison 8-13 7-8 26, Balamou 3-4 2-2 8, Bourgault 2-4 0-0 6, Jones 0-3 0-0 0, Obekpa 4-7 0-1 8, Garrett 7-8 1-3 15, Lipscomb 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-2 0-0 0, Ndiaye 0-0 0-0 0, Sealy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-58 16-24 89.
Halftime: St. John's 38-26. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 5-23 (Williams 2-4, Richardson 2-5, Smith 1-4, Phillips 0-1, Leonard 0-1, Page 0-4, Ellington 0-4), St. John's 7-14 (Harrison 3-6, Greene IV 2-2, Bourgault 2-4, White 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: South Carolina 43 (Carrera 11), St. John's 31 (Garrett 11). Assists: South Carolina 10 (Richardson, Smith 2), St. John's 19 (Pointer 5). Total Fouls: South Carolina 17, St. John's 18. Attendance: 4,902.