Opening-game jitters or simply not playing well?
It didn’t matter.
South Carolina corrected a stagnant first 15 minutes of basketball with a sizzling stretch of shooting until the final horn on Saturday, blasting Longwood 82-44 in the season-opener for each team. The Gamecocks sprinted to the halftime buzzer and then melted the hinges of the locker-room doors in the second half, hitting nearly 90 percent of their attempts in the first seven minutes and racing to a massive lead.
USC’s freshmen began doing what they can do, after only Duane Notice broke the scoring column in the first half, and the Gamecocks won their 13th consecutive season-opener.
“Extremely happy with how we played,” coach Frank Martin said. “With so many young kids, and even Tyrone (Johnson) it’s not like he’s been in our system a long time, so all this is new to him, too. Extremely, extremely happy with our guys, our rebounding, our attention to detail on defense.”
USC couldn’t buy a basket in the first half and spent most of its offensive possessions passing the ball around the 3-point line. What kept the game close was that the Lancers (0-1) couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, not scoring until nearly six minutes of game clock was chewed.
The Gamecocks’ catalyst was a guy they thought they weren’t going to have until mid-December. Johnson, cleared by the NCAA to play on Friday evening, scored the first points of the season and began shaking USC out of its doldrums.
“I prepared myself as if my number was going to be called any day,” said Johnson, who led the Gamecocks with 18 points. “I took practice every day as a game. I tried to push the tempo and tried to lead these guys, on and off the court. Today, my number was called.”
Led by Johnson and Mindaugas Kacinas, a surprise starter who yanked eight rebounds in the first half on his way to a team-high 14, USC got its legs under it and began making shots. The half closed with a flurry, Notice sinking 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
The onslaught continued in the second half.
Notice cleaned up a Sindarius Thornwell miss, Thornwell made two free throws (after a scoreless first half) and Johnson stroked a short jumper. Thornwell hit from seven feet, Johnson completed a fast-break assist from Michael Carrera and Johnson scored again.
USC used the rest of the game to get everybody confident, heading into a Tuesday matchup at No. 25 Baylor.
Martin was pleased, and blamed the first-half lapse on himself.
“Put that one on me 100 percent,” Martin said. “We spent so much time trying to build our defense that we haven’t allotted as much time to zone offense as we need to. As the game continued and they started listening to us a little bit on the sideline, and we did a better job of explaining what we needed to do, we started attacking that zone a little bit better.”
Thornwell finished with 14 points. Brenton Williams matched him. Carrera had 12 and nine rebounds, while the Gamecocks shot nearly 50 percent and collected 38 defensive boards.
It was a strong start to what USC hopes is a strong season, and the Gamecocks have an experienced point guard from the start. Johnson didn’t look rusty despite a year of not playing.
“Guys were just very pumped up off the game,” Johnson said. “We just tried to come in and do everything Coach asked us to do. We stayed with the lead, and the second half, came out hungrier and came out and did everything Coach asked us to do in the first half. We made shots in the second half.”
LONGWOOD (0-1) | Carey 5-20 0-1 12, Woodhouse 2-9 4-5 9, Ziegler 0-6 5-6 5, Havenstein 0-1 0-0 0, Geter 0-0 0-0 0, Dublin 4-5 0-0 8, Fisher 1-6 2-6 5, Belton 1-7 3-4 5, Allen 0-3 0-0 0, Akers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-57 14-22 44.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0) | Johnson 6-9 6-7 18, Thornwell 4-10 6-7 14, Notice 3-6 0-0 8, Kacinas 4-6 0-0 8, Henry 1-5 2-2 4, Williams 5-11 2-2 14, Carrera 4-7 2-4 12, Shaw 0-1 2-2 2, Chatkevicius 1-1 0-0 2, Ringer 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 0-1 0-0 0, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 20-24 82.
Halftime: South Carolina 37-15. 3-Point Goals: Longwood 4-22 (Carey 2-10, Woodhouse 1-4, Fisher 1-4, Allen 0-1, Belton 0-3), South Carolina 6-20 (Notice 2-3, Carrera 2-5, Williams 2-7, Johnson 0-1, Shaw 0-1, Thornwell 0-3). Fouled Out: Notice. Rebounds: Longwood 27 (Ziegler 7), South Carolina 50 (Kacinas 14). Assists: Longwood 7 (Woodhouse 4), South Carolina 13 (Notice 4). Total Fouls: Longwood 19, South Carolina 18. Attendance: 8,536.