Earlier this season, USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin mentioned that he was pining for a game in which his Gamecocks led by 40 points and he didn’t have to coach so hard every single minute.
That game took place Friday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks, behind some remarkable shooting and a rare height advantage, dismantled visiting Jacksonville, 91-74.
But Martin coached ’em up, anyway.
With a much smaller crowd than past home games, Martin’s various teachable moments were aired in Technicolor glory. All the familiar themes were struck along the way — moving on offense, staying on the ball on defense and, of course: Rebound, rebound, rebound.
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“Learning how to become a good basketball team,” Martin said. “You don’t become good overnight.”
The game never was close. After Jacksonville scored the first points, USC countered with the next 11. Another 11-1 run later in the half staked USC to a 48-26 lead. A few moments later, a 9-2 kick gave the Gamecocks (6-3) a 57-30 halftime advantage.
Everyone got in on the act, including Laimonas Chatkevicius, who had seven first-half points, including a 3-pointer, as USC posted its most first-half points in 69 games. The 57 points were more than the Gamecocks scored in 11 games last season.
The Gamecocks pushed its lead to 66-33 before the game bogged down in the second half. Still, USC maintained its advantage beyond 20 points until a lineup of reserves allowed the Dolphins to edge to within the final score. The final stat line showed the Gamecocks had more assists (20) than turnovers (17).
“We didn’t have those bad turnovers that deflate you,” Martin said. “Instead of being deflated, we gained confidence and aggressiveness because we took good shots and didn’t turn it over.”
Michael Carrera led the Gamecocks with 17 points. Brian Richardson had 16 while Bruce Ellington and Brenton Williams each had 12. Chatkevicius finished with nine points as everyone played for USC except for LaShay Page, who was out with a stomach virus.
“We had a great week of practice,” said junior guard Eric Smith, who had seven points and seven assists. “Practice was real competitive, there was a lot of energy every day, and I think that carried over to the game. We played real hard and pushed the ball and did things (Martin) is always talking about us doing.”
The Gamecocks shot 55.4 percent for the game, including 62.5 percent (10-of-16) from behind the 3-point line. At the other end of the court, USC held the Dolphins (4-6) to 38.2 percent from the field and 3-of-20 from the 3-point line.
It all added up to something of a cathartic victory after two difficult losses last week against St. John’s and rival Clemson. An added bonus: feeling slightly better about themselves heading into a 12-day break for exams.
“It’s a good feeling to come back to the home court and play well,” Richardson said.
USC next plays on Dec. 19 against Appalachian State.
Percentages: FG .382, FT .679. 3-Point Goals: 3-20, .150 (Fritsch 2-7, McDougald 1-5, Bogus 0-2, Bell 0-6). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 8 (G. Powell 3, Alderman 2, Fritsch, Dawson, Bell). Turnovers: 7 (G. Powell 3, Dawson 2, Haywood, Fritsch). Steals: 7 (McDougald 2, Bell 2, Fleming, Haywood, Bogus). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .554, FT .655. 3-Point Goals: 10-16, .625 (Richardson 4-4, Williams 4-5, Chatkevicius 1-1, Smith 1-2, Ellington 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Leonard 0-2). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 6 (Carrera 2, Kacinas 2, Jackson, Slawson). Turnovers: 17 (Chatkevicius 4, Jackson 3, Ellington 2, Kacinas 2, Constable, Phillips, Steele, Slawson, Smith, Leonard). Steals: 3 (Jackson, Ellington, Smith). Technical Fouls: None. Att.–NA. Officials–Anthony Jordan, Ron Groover, Roger Ayers.